Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memorials: Three Views [Anthony McCarthy]

Buying Toys for Dead Children

The sad, disturbing case of the little boy whose body was found in the town next to mine has been all over the news. His funeral is being held today. Before he was identified and his mother arrested all kinds of assumptions were made about what had happened, none of those I heard or read remotely close to what is believed now. The real story was far less sensational and far sadder than anyone I'd heard imagined. A case of unavailable help for people who needed it desperately.

Even before the little boy was identified one of those bizarre "memorial" conglomerations of flowers, objects, apparently even food was assembled near where he was found. It was a useless gesture by people who had no connection to the case except what they heard on TV. I don't know where that practice came from or where it began but it is something entirely bizarre to me. I don't remember it happening here before about fifteen years ago.

Trying to think about what it means hasn't produced anything except that it's a desire to participate in some kind of celebrity inspired by the substitute for culture that TV provides. Maybe it's the same kind of substitute for reality that people believed they had as they talked about the case before any real information was known to them.

Certainly there are more meaningful things to do than to buy a teddy bear for a child who is dead and putting it on the side of the road where it's quickly going to turn to trash. It does nothing for anyone, not the child who is dead, not for any living children. I don't understand it and I doubt there is much there to understand. I wonder how many of the people who do those things are the same kind of people who would watch mental health services eliminated by the same kinds of politicians who are all about empty gestures and mawkish, dishonest piety. Maybe they'd nod vaguely in agreement that it was a good idea to lower taxes, just as TV told them they should.

Here is a piece I wrote shortly after I began blogging:


The past twenty years has been unusual in number of monuments erected. The memorial movement unquestionably began with the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial designed by Maya Lin. Memorials to veterans and others will be one of the lasting legacies of our generation. It being Memorial Day weekend it might be time to talk about two monuments in particular, one extraordinary in its absence, the other to be discussed later.

Wars are horrible as veterans and their families know, despite movie bravado to the contrary. Even those of us whose family members came home ambulatory and able to lead some kind of normal life know that its effects are permanent. Pretending that the survivors aren't the victims of a horrible experience isn't any service to them or the truth. Even the best movies are inadequate to show what it's really like. An experience that huge and over that period of time can't be condensed into two hours. No monument can give a sense of the sacrifice some of war's victims give ever day they and their family members live.

Among the most numerous victims of a war are civilians whose deaths and injuries are reduced by our media and those it serves in a series of the most offensive euphemisms ever coined. "Collateral damage," is the most often cited. It's easy for people sitting in studios and hearing rooms in DC and New York to let those be the final words on the subject. But as we are seeing in Iraq today the victims brushed away here are remembered somewhere else. And more than a handful of those who don't forget them want revenge in our blood. Today's economic reality, transportation and the ocean of weapons provided by arms manufacturers and dealers make that revenge not only possible but increasingly likely.

Will it take a national monument of the mall to remember the myriad of civilian victims of all wars? Our civilian dead and those who die in our actions abroad? Whatever it takes, the public relations induced amnesia that blots them out of our national discussion has to be broken through. Most importantly it's matter of morality. Our souls. It's also a matter of our own security. Ignoring them will cost us in blood again.

In definitive contrast to this absence is a monument of a different stripe altogether. One which ubiquitously blights the face of our country. I hear that a recent example was set up by Senator Larry Craig on C-Span's Washington Journal last week. In discussing possible laws to prevent the funerals of veterans from being disrupted, a measure endorsed here last week, he repeated one of the right's favorite lies. He said that it was needed to keep anti-war protesters from dishonoring dead veterans and their families. In the quote I saw he gave no examples of this happening. I'm told that the moderator didn't challenge the lie. As my piece last week said, the most prominent disruptions and threatened disruptions of funerals have come from the Phelps family. An obvious right-wing, "christian" fundamentalist group which has more in common with the Senator from Idaho than it does with the most aggravatingly tone deaf anti-war groups in the world.

We had one of these incidents in my state last month so the m. o. is fresh in our memory. A week of worry for the family as they prepared for the funeral. A week of publicity for a right wing hate group. A region braced for the spectacle of a funeral being turned into a diatribe of anti-gay hate by outsiders. And then the cancellation. Why take the bother of traveling when you can get the publicity free. Lying about this being done by anti-war groups provides the hate group with more cover than they probably would welcome.

Republicans and conservatives have spread these lies, from the urban myth of returning Vietnam veterans enduring a rain of anti-war spittle to this fabrication. And their motives are entirely corrupt. Their motive is to cover the coffins of returning soldiers with lies . They dishonor their memory more than all the complete, combined antics of the lunatic fringe that plagues real anti-war efforts. The media is an active participant in the lies.

John Ashcroft's covering of "The Spirit of Justice" was an action of symbolism so appropriate that he didn't get it. The Republican Party is covering up the dead of their war in an act of cynicism that dishonors all of the war dead and their families. And they not only get it, that's the plan.

Note: Larry Craig had yet to show just how much of a whited sepulcher he was when this was written.