Memorial Day

Sgt. Donald Walters was the first Salem-area soldier to be killed during the current Iraq invasion and occupation. On the back of his memorial marker is the following inscription, taken from his re-enlistment letter:

I would lay down my life for my family and nation if it is worth it, and this one is to let them appreciate the taste of their freedoms. Freedom isn’t free and someone must do what they must to preserve it. The Bible states, “Blessed is he who lays down his life for the sake of his friends.” I fear not and I’m motivated by the fear of the unknown and being a part of a bigger picture. Whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

I don’t know what is sadder: That Sgt. Walters died during an illegal invasion of a foreign nation that presented no national security threat to the United States or that his communicative skills were so subpar that the only sentence in his memorial inscription that isn’t a howlingly funny example of illogic, bad grammer, or unintentional comedy is a biblical quote.

I mean neither to disparage Walters’ judgment nor to dishonor his sacrifice. However much I might disagree with Walters’ thoughts on the necessity of military service, I can certainly respect the earnestness and honesty of his convictions. A man can’t offer much more proof of his belief than his life, after all.

That aside, it is in the individual cases like Walters where the rubber hits the road so to speak, and we see the human cost of our country’s failed political leadership in military affairs. Whatever Walters’ beliefs, the invasion and occupation of Iraq was illegal. The Bush doctrine of preemptive, first strike military action is immoral. The Bush adminstration’s ill-conceived policy of disregarding the Geneva Convention regarding prisoners is a disgrace to the nation and very real threat to our own soldiers.

Indeed, Walters’ own death may be attributable in some measure to this policy, as recent reports indicate he was not killed in action as first believed, but may have been captured and executed. If the US isn’t following the laws of war and the Geneva Convention, why should we expect any different from the other side?

So as we remember today those who have served the nation and who have sacrificed so much for our country, let us not forget that blundered political leadership has real world consequences and that those serving in the armed forces are often first to pay for these mistakes. Let us in this day of remembrance commit ourselves to participation in the democratic political process that lies at the heart of the freedom Sgt. Walters believed himself to be defending. Let us elect anyone other than George Bush as president in November.