Last week everyone sighed with relief as April, that famously cruel month,
eased off the calendar to be replaced by gentle May.
By now we all know the grisly toll of April: 136 Americans dead, including
the four civilian workers gruesomely beaten and dismembered by exultant Iraqi
youths, 900 U.S. troops wounded, and 1,361 Iraqis killed, many in Fallujah,
where the dead were buried in soccer fields because U.S. forces had sealed off the
April had its surreal moments as well -- what Maureen Dowd called the
re-Baathification of the de-Baathification of Iraq -- when American commanders chose
one of Saddam's loyal top generals to lead the reconstituted Iraqi army to
take over control of Fallujah. They un-chose him a few days later under a tsunami
of local protest.
Even my sleepwalking fellow Americans rubbed their eyes and saw too many
people dying for a mission going backward.
It would be lovely to erase the losses of April with the flip of the
calendar, but the images that greeted us on the first days of May were even worse. The
now-widely published photos of American men and women in uniform, gloating
over piles of naked Iraqi men, some sexually compromised, others with electrical
wires attached to their bodies, have shattered any goodwill that the vast
majority of our troops have struggled to achieve.
President Bush expressed his outrage and Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell
went into damage control overdrive, while Donald Rumsfeld refused to apologize
or appear before the Armed Services Committee, a decision he later reversed
under a barrage of bipartisan fury.
As secretary of defense -- and mastermind of our whole underplanned Operation
Iraqi Hell -- Rumsfeld should fall on his sword and resign. If he won't,
President Bush should fire him. It might mitigate some of the damage that this
repugnant scandal has added to our nation's already tarnished world image. In the merry month of May, as we once knew it, we gathered clutches of
pansies or even dandelions to leave on an old lady's doorstep. We wove garlands of
violets and lazed around in soft, sweet grass. We smelled lilacs and loam, and
hints of summer in the milk of newly pastured cows.
We honored all mothers, danced in ribboned innocence around May poles,
reveled in rebirth and spring, and solemnly closed the month by honoring our war
On Memorial Day we woke to the sound of a million muffled drumbeats as
veterans and scouts tuned up for the parade to the village green, where sturdy
uniformed women would place a waxy wreath at the war memorial and portly men in
white spats would fire their rifles. The names of the dead would be read, one by
one, and an honor scout would offer a quavering taps.
But somehow I think this May is going to be different. Our war dead now come
home in anonymity, unwelcome evidence of an ill-advised invasion gone very
wrong. Photographs of their final journey are banned and reading their names on
television is deemed by some to be partisan. No parades, no ceremonies, only
the broken hearts of children and lovers and mothers in this month meant to be
Last year President Bush teetered ever-closer to the Orwellian edge when he
proclaimed that May Day would now be known forever as Loyalty Day. This year,
as commander in chief overseeing the worst American war carnage since Vietnam,
he probably has his eye on Memorial Day. Patriots' Day, perhaps? But if we've lost May Day to Loyalty Day we still have it as the
international distress call, taken from the French (uh-oh, that loyalty thing) m'aidez, or
help me. There are other official calls for help, but "Mayday," repeated
three times, is reserved for when the entire ship is in dire trouble and going
Some days when our president's relentless jauntiness in the face of
catastrophe is too much, I go out to my little sliver of a garden and try to reconnect
to the hopeful promise of May. But the tulips I dug into the hard ground last
fall grew to an unexpected height and their blood-red heads have pierced right
through my white bleeding hearts. This year it seems the graphic images are
everywhere and I whisper, "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday."
Susan Lenfestey (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Minneapolis writer.
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