Friday, November 12, 2010


I hear on the news this Veterans Day that our thankfully exiting governor–cynically known as Governor Scissorhands for all his ribbon cutting -- will be dedicating a new memorial to our Vermont dead in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The "Vermont Global War on Terror Memorial", planned and funded by the families of "Vermont's 36 Fallen Global War on Terror Heroes,” to the tune of $350,000 is aimed at “marking both the sacrifice of those who served and the heartbreak of the loved ones left behind.”

A memorial to oneself?

The sculptor of the Memorial describes it thus:

"In front of the field memorial stands a low sarcophagus etched with the names and representing the body of Vermont’s Fallen Patriots.

Surrounding the field memorial and sarcophagus are three semi-circular bench walls.

In the center of each bench wall stands a monolith. The monolith on the left is dedicated to all those from Vermont who have served in the Global War on Terror. It has a hand tooled War on Terror Service Medal. The monolith on the right is dedicated to the families of the fallen and the great sacrifices they have made. It has a hand tooled Vermont Patriot’s Medal. The monolith in the back has a bronze dedication plaque and expresses the pride and sorrow of the citizens of Vermont.

Together the three monoliths – their family, their comrades and their fellow citizens stand as sentinels ready to guard the sacred honor of the fallen. …”

The Cemetery Advisory Board of the Vermont Veterans Memorial Cemetery has provided what they call “a reverent location at the entrance to the cemetery.” “The GWOT Memorial will be a lasting tribute to our Fallen Heroes who have made the 'ultimate sacrifice' protecting our country and defending our freedom. They will not be forgotten.”

It is hard to know where to begin reacting to all this. I cringe at the language–bathetic, maudlin, soupy, cloying, schmaltzy, large-P Patriotic–but the sentiments inscribed in this language are more problematical still.

A guy stopped by at our peace vigil last night and said, “My nephew got back from Iraq and blew his brains out. He couldn't deal with the stuff he had done–killing civilians and all that.”

This, it seems to me is a more accurate description of reality.

Our president, of course, made a typical Veterans Day pledge: “As long as I am Commander-in-Chief, I am going to do right by them [our veterans]. America will not let you down. We will take care of our own,” he said.

On the other hand, yesterday's release of the draft report from the President's Fiscal Deficit Commission has recommended establishing Veterans Administration health co-pays. From the report: “This option would increase out-of-pocket costs for veterans in Priority Group 5–those who do not have service-connected disabilities and whose income is below a VA-defined threshold. Currently, those patients pay no fees for inpatient or outpatient medical care. This option requires copayments for medical care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs to these enrollees, saving 0.7 billion in 2014.”

This, it seems to me, is a more accurate description of reality.

And today, Obama exhorted Congress to stop shooting down the deficit proposals before they have been studied. “If people are in fact, concerned about spending, debt, deficits and the future of our country, then they're going to need to be armed with the information about the kinds of choices that are going to be involved, and we can't just engage in political rhetoric.” A new rhetorical War on Political Rhetoric?

The question of supporting troops is a vexed one. It is true they have suffered–but they have also caused much suffering. Which of the two do we support? Only the first while ignoring the second? The families too have suffered. But is part of their pain related to their own responsibility in sending their children off to kill and be killed in the interests of a governing elite? Do we support such sending off?

In any case, the language of the Vermont Global War On Terror Memorial is tired, empty, and ever less to any point. It perpetuates a sentimental, obscuring cloud-of-unknowing over the realities we currently face and must radically change.

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