Memorial Day is traditionally a day to honor those soldiers who have given their lives in protecting our country. This year, we need to expand the list of those we honor.
First of all, women, children, the elderly, and the sick are included in the 150 million souls who were killed in wars in the 20th century.
And then there are the wounded, whose lives are permanently damaged. In Iraq, the great new technology used in body armor means less soldiers are being killed, but more are returning with missing arms, legs, and faces. Not all physical wounds are obvious. After decades, the government finally acknowledged the damage Agent Orange did to soldiers in Vietnam, only after long, difficult battles by damaged veterans.
The new agent orange is depleted uranium. Contrary to popular belief, depleted uranium is still radioactive. We used 300 tons of it in Gulf I, and over 2,000 tons in the current war. When used, DU becomes aerosalized. These minute particles have ended up in the sand, air, water and food supplies throughout Iraq. Its damage to the human body includes kidney and vision problems, cancers, and an increased rate of birth defects and stillborns. As with agent orange, our government is denying these claims by our veterans.
There is also serious psychological and emotional damage done to a large number of those involved in war. Images of fellow soldiers’ body parts splayed on the ground or in the front seat of a jeep will stay with the person forever. As will memories of the infant blown to pieces by the soldier’s rifle. War is not noble or pretty.
The toll grows. Each injured soldier and civilian has families and friends who will be affected, either as a lifetime caregiver, or as someone who may realize they do not have the power to help their psychologically damaged loved ones. The estimated 500,000 Vietnam veterans living in the streets of America are testimony to these kinds of victims.
There are simply too many people for us to have to memorialize. And it is criminal to increase those numbers because of the lies of a small group of power hungry individuals.
Veterans for Peace is a non-profit educational and humanitarian organization dedicated to abolishing war. One of our goals is to increase awareness of the costs of war. The damage to individuals and families is a big part of these costs, but other significant costs include damage to the environment, and all of the social good that is sacrificed because of war’s huge financial costs. Another great cost from our current war involves the loss of many of our rights, such as our right to privacy and free speech. The soul of our country and our world is damaged with every new act of violence.
In order to bring awareness to these costs, and to promote the other parts of VFP’s mission, a group of us will be spending 23 days on a cross-country Stop the War bus trip. We are planning a series of media events along the way. We encourage your participation, vicariously through our website. (http://homepage.mac.com/gordonsoderberg/roadtrip/index3.html)
We realize we cannot change the world, but the world can be changed one person at a time. This is who we are reaching out to, every individual who can make any kind of difference in their own lives.
I’d like to end with a quote by Martin Luther King: “Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love”. I believe there are few things in this world which stand against love more harshly than war.
The best way to honor our soldiers on this memorial day is to bring them home now.
DIANE REJMAN is a member of Veterans for Peace. She is listed in Who’s Who in America, and holds an MBA from Thunderbird, the American Graduate School of International Management. She gave this talk as a guest speaker at the First Presbytarian Church in Palo Alto, CA. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org