Memorial Day has been set aside as a day to remember those who have died
in war. Memorial Day, a day of Remembrance. I am fascinated with the way
we talk about memory, about remembering. Remember! We are told. Remember the Alamo! Remember the Maine! Remember the Lusitania!
Remembering the Alamo resulted in hundreds of deaths in the Mexican War.
Remembering the Maine, we began the Spanish American War, creating the
first US overseas empire. "Remember the Lusitania" brought the United
States into World War I. And in the spring of 2003 as I argued against
the impending Iraq war on local radio G105, callers seemed incredulous.
Don't you Remember 9/11?
Each "Remember" is intended to call us to vigilance against an attack.
Each "Remember" presents the US as victim of an attack that the Reminder
claims can be set right only by the call to arms. Each "Remember"
becomes the jingoistic recalling of tragedies that calls forth more
To erase the horrific memories, we go to war. The wars plunge soldiers
and bystanders into more horror. Wars claim their own victims, whom we
honor once a year. But then we forget, every year, leaving the bereaved
alone to grieve, sending the broken to hospitals, relegating the
devastated to the streets. War becomes normalized, its horror sanitized,
its victims invisible. Except on Memorial Day.
So on this Memorial Day, I propose a new remembering: Remember the War.
After each of the "Rememberings," terrible events ensued, events whose
victims we honor today. It is time that we respond to renewed calls to
violence with a different demand, "Remember the War."
The war raging in Iraq has already claimed the lives of more than 1600
American troops. It has claimed the health of tens of thousands more.
But the numbers have no meaning. Our soldiers aren't numbers. It is sons
and daughters who are dying, mothers and fathers. And Brad Beard, a
local artillery mechanic killed in Ramadi, Iraq by a Roadside bomb.
October 19, 2004:
Chatham soldier dies in Iraq.
Beard had sense of humor, serious side.
By Anne Blythe, News and Observer
"Specialist Bradley Scott Beard could keep a roomful of people in
stitches doing impressions of celebrities, presidents and his favorite,
Austin Powers -- cinema's kooky spoof-spy. But there was a serious side
to the tall, burly, hazel-eyed 22-year-old who was drawn to the Army
after the September 11, 2001, attacks. He believed in the mission in
Iraq, his parents said; he thought it was important...."
"'I'm so proud of him," [Brad's father] Randy Beard said Monday.
'Believe me, I would give the world to have my son back, but believe me,
I was proud of what he was doing....'
"He was an avid reader who relished science fiction and a good adventure
or action story. He showed a talent for language by picking up Japanese
quickly during a family visit to Japan. But math and computers were his
passions, so much so that he took community college courses at Wake
Technical Community College during his high school years. He played
basketball in the Apex town league, took tae kwon do, went to Peace
Presbyterian Church in Cary and did some acting with the Christian Youth
Theatre, which now is in Angier.
"'He was very bright,' said Richard McKee, the father of one of Beard's
"Beard set out for North Carolina State University in 2000, a
scholarship student who seemed destined for a career in engineering. But
after three semesters, he decided to go in a different direction. He
enlisted in the Army in May 2002....
"'Brad always had an inexhaustible supply of jokes,' [mother] Betsy
Beard said. 'From an early age, he seemed to think it was his job to
make people laugh.'"
Remember the War!
The non-combatant victims of war are not collateral damage, either. They
are children and parents, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters. Each
leaves a wake of grief.
April 1, 2003: "Hilla, the local hospital director said 33 people
were killed and more than 300 wounded in a bombing raid yesterday. A
spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross told the
Agence France Presse: 'There were dozens of smashed corpses' at the
"The London Guardian reports unedited TV footage from the Babylon
hospital showed horrifically injured bodies heaped into pick-up trucks.
Relatives of the dead accompanied them for burial. Bed after bed of
injured women and children were pictured along with large pools of blood
on the floor of the hospital.
"An AFP reporter also encountered a civilian sitting among 15 coffins at
the Babylon hospital. Razek al-Kazem al-Khafaji said the coffins
contained the bodies of his wife, six children, his father, his mother,
his three brothers and their wives. They were killed Monday night when a
US helicopter gunship fired on the family's pickup truck. The family was
fleeing fierce fighting in Nasiriyah."1
"Bakhat Hassan...lost his daughters, ages 2 and 5, his son, 3, his
parents, two older brothers, their wives and two nieces, ages 12 and
15.... Hassan's wife Lamea recalled: 'I saw the heads of my two little
girls come off.' She repeated herself in a flat, even voice: 'My girls
-- I watched their heads come off their bodies. My son is dead.'"2
August 15, 2003 "In another tragedy, panicked US soldiers, thinking a
blown transformer was a bomb, fired on a car filled with a family who
did not see the soldiers' checkpoint. The attack widowed a woman,
killing her husband, two daughters, and a son. The youngest was 8. The
family was coming home from dropping off a grandmother. The surviving
daughter, 13-year-old Hadeel Kawaz, said the soldiers left her dying
father and siblings bleeding for an hour without medical attention.
During the occupation, the family had given water to patrolling US
Remember the War!
When the war is over, the dispossessed, the injured, the survivors
continue to suffer.
According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, "19
percent of Marine respondents and 17 percent of Army respondents in four
infantry units in Iraq and Afghanistan reported major depression,
general anxiety or PTSD....More than 90 percent of surveyed troops in
Iraq had seen bodies or human remains or had been shot at. About half
had killed an enemy combatant."4
Lawyers against the War discusses "1000-2000 tons [of depleted uranium]-
more than three times the amount used in the first Gulf War...only this
time it was primarily spread in Iraq's cities, not on the battlefield."5
Dr. Duraid al-Khatoon, pediatrician at Children's Teaching Hospital in
Baghdad, warns, "We have entered the summer season and the water and
sewage treatment in Baghdad still requires urgent repair. Children are
developing cholera from these sources and all my patients are being told
not to drink water unless it has been boiled and to keep children from
playing in streets."6
UNICEF reported that more than 1,000 children had already been injured
during the two months after the end of major combat activities by
unexploded ordnance and unguarded munitions.7
The other victims? Our children. The war in Iraq has so far cost the
people of North Carolina more than 37,000 affordable housing units. It
could have insured 2.5 million children, hired 72,000 new teachers. Just
in North Carolina. The Peace Dividend I was promised before I became a
mother has become an enormous War Deficit, and spending on the War and
its share in the debt now demands forty-two cents of every dollar I pay
The legacy of war, whether in our memories or not, continues. War kills
people, and modern warfare continues to kill long after. Death.
Amputation. Hatred. Fear. Suicide. Disease. Terror. War threatens our
humanity, individually and collectively.
As Staff Sgt. Camilo Majia wrote in his application for Conscientious
Objector status: "I have held a rifle to a man's face, a man on the
ground and in front of his mother, children and wife - and not knowing
why I did it. I have walked by the headless body of an innocent man
right after our machine guns decapitated him. I have seen a soldier
broken down inside because he killed a child. I have seen an old man on
his knees, crying, with his arms raised to the sky, perhaps asking God
why we were taking the lifeless body of his son. It is the war that has
changed me forever.By putting my weapon down I choose to reassert myself
as a human being."9
Remember the War!
Remember the War! As long as we honor only some of its victims only once
a year, as long as the rest of the year War is relegated to the distant
reaches of our un-recalled past, War will continue to be a conceivable
policy. War can remain an early resort to conflict only if we refuse to
remember it. But being against war, this war or any other war, can
hardly provide a coherent alternative. We need a policy to set against
the existing policy of militarism, a policy emphasizing other ways to
resolve disputes, a policy that will ensure our children's survival, a
policy that will not demand most of our wealth for the creation and use
of deadly force. To create that policy, we must demand that every day be
Memorial Day. "Remember the War!" must become a call to action.
Sarah Shields teaches Middle East history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
6. http://electroniciraq.net/news/1979.shtml IRIN report