THINKING FOR OURSELVES: Memories in Small Towns

Memories in Small Towns
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, May 26, 2009

This Memorial Day I was in a small town in Maine. It has a year round population of a little over 2000. Few tourists or summer people have come to town yet.

I decided to go to the local holiday parade. It was exactly what you would expect. The police squad car led off, followed by four WWII veterans who formed the color guard. There was an assortment of fire trucks, old cars from the 1930s, a few kids on decorated bicycles, and both the high school and elementary school marching bands. Rounding out the parade was the local volunteer ambulance service.

Some marchers carried balloons, handing them out to almost every child with an outstretched arm.

In the middle was something I didn’t expect. About twenty men and women dressed in black, some wearing t-shirts that said Veterans Against War, carrying banners,. Each banner stretched nearly the width of the street and had about 300 identical flags on each side. Under each flag was the name of a man or woman who had lost their lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were about 15 banners in all, introduced by a large sign that tallied the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today that number is nearly 5000 in Iraq and more than 600 in Afghanistan.

These men and women were asking us to remember that Memorial Day shouldn’t just be about past wars. It should remind us every day in the year that we are still involved in brutal wars, taking the lives not only of our own people, but bringing destruction and death to people in Iraq and Afghanistan where at least 753,000 people have died since these wars began. The numbers of both military and civilian deaths in Pakistan are unclear. But one thing we know. Both will grow.

Most of these deaths have not occurred under the leadership of President Obama. Still, they have had an impact on him. He has already spoken of the difficulty he faces in sending letters to the loved ones of fallen soldiers. Even before assuming the office of the President, Mr. Obama gathered information about soldiers killed. Since entering the White House, he has been sending personal notes to their families. Early in the year he told NBC News that he considers sending these letters an important duty and added “You realize every decision you make counts.”

This Memorial Day President Obama acknowledged his own lack of military service, saying, “My grandfather served in Patton’s army in World War II; I cannot know what it is like to walk into battle.” He went on, “I’m the father of two young girls, but I can’t imagine what it is like to lose a child. These are things I cannot know. But I do know this: I am humbled to be the commander-in-chief of the finest fighting force in the history of the world.”

These comments have come a long way from the campaign trail when during debates with then Senator Clinton, both candidates seemed to try to prove who was potentially the tougher commander-in-chief.

But President Obama has also come a long way from the promise of peace.

He has yet to ask us to consider how we have come to this moment. Why are we continuing to kill and be killed in order to protect a national way of living that is neither satisfying or sustaining?

Until, in towns all across America, we ask hard questions of ourselves and our leaders, we will continue to carry banners bearing names of our dead, generation after generation.



  1. lesley otter

    I love that Grace Boggs first and foremost loves young people, and is an advocate for them. Grace is an educator, and her passion for learning is infectious and makes a person WANT to learn. She had that effect on me. When I lived with Shea Howell. Grace and Shea, the dynamic duo. They challenged me and encouraged me to write about my experiences, and not to edit myself. They are both brilliant women and very kind, as well. I owe them alot.
    Peace is Ours if we want it – John Lennon
    Lesley O.

  2. lesley otter

    Your article nailed pretty much where we are at in terms of veterans and dead soldiers. The last “good” war was WWII. All of our wars after that were pretty much based on lies and subterfuge, with the invasion of Iraq the most blatant example. Our Iraq/Afghan vets are wearing black in mourning for what their fearless leader sent them into. An impossible mission. They are coming home damaged and angry. Fort Campbell, I believe in North Carolina, shut down the base and had a 3 day seminar on PTSD and suicide prevention. Our soldiers are killing themselves. They know there is no enemy to fight. They are killing civilians, not other soldiers. Since WWI, more civilians have died in wars than soldiers. There are no monuments to them, no Memorial Day parades for the women and children considered “collateral damage.” There are no headstones to lay the flowers at. Just mass graves or bodies left to rot on the side of the road. It gets pretty damn hot in Iraq. Perhaps our next Memorial Day could be about remembering the innocent who die, while the Generals give their orders safely in Qatar, far from the suicide bombs and IED’s. No overhead bombing raid fears for them. While they pontificate about the good guys vs. the bad guys, our “good guys” are becoming jailers and checkpoint guards. You know, the stuff Occupiers do. Our soldiers (the good ones, don’t Want to be Occupiers. They want to get the hell out!

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