Each year, Dec. 7 marks a solemn occasion. In Hawaii, halfway across the Pacific, they honor the thousands of Americans killed 65 years ago at Pearl Harbor on what President Franklin Roosevelt correctly called “a day that will live in infamy.”
But closer to home, near a much smaller body of water, there’s another place for us to remember heroes who’ve fallen in more recent wars. Alongside the Illinois River in Marseilles (about 75 miles from Chicago) stands a memorial to the troops who’ve died in the Middle East since 1980. The granite wall is six feet high and 50 feet long and was erected by the motorcycling group Freedom Run (ilfreedomrun.org).
It contains the names of almost 2,500 service members. That includes those who died in Operation Desert One (the attempt to rescue American hostages from Iran), the terrorist bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon, Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the USS Cole bombing, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and the Iraq war.
One of the names is Corporal Brad Arms. He perished more than two years ago in Fallujah. Shortly before he died, Arms wrote to some friends to explain that he understood what he was fighting for. “When driving or walking through the small villages, the kids run out and cheer us on as an on-the-spot parade, but as we get to the market places we get only cold stares from the men over 20. It’s the future of this country that will be different down the road,” he wrote.
“As long as we can keep the younger generations open-minded, then we will win this war, even though the fruits of my labor will not be realized for many years when the children of this country now rule.” A
rms laid out a future worth striving for. Today, though, it’s unclear whether the United States has the will to build that future in Iraq.
Last month CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid told students, “I think we are winning this fight.” And President Bush recently told NATO leaders “I’m not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete. We can accept nothing less than victory for our children and grandchildren.”
But those views flout the conventional wisdom. As the Louisville Courier-Journal editorialized after Bush’s address, “No one else is talking about ‘victory’ anymore.” In another example, newly-elected Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, who has a son serving in Iraq, told the president, “I’d like to get them [American troops] out of Iraq.”
Of course, we can pull out of Iraq any time we choose. But that would consign that nation to a sectarian bloodbath many times more horrific than what we’ve seen to date.
Or we can choose to fight to win, to help build the country Corporal Arms wrote of and died to bring about.