If today were any day other than Memorial Day, I wouldn't make it to the end of this sentence without flinging some heartfelt insult at Dick Cheney.
But this day isn't about Dick Cheney, and it sure as hell isn't about my pampered civilian ass. This day is about Americans who died in uniform. This day, by extension, is about the barely noticed cataclysm our country endures every time a combat death cheats an American out of a dad, a mom, a husband, a wife, a son, a daughter, an uncle, an aunt, a cousin, a neighbor, a friend. This day is about loss.
Cheney displayed a basic ingratitude toward that loss in last week's speech at the American Enterprise Institute. The ingratitude is not unique to Cheney. It's a type of ingratitude that's comfortable for many, if not most, of us. It's an accounting trick we do. Something worthy of the crooks at Enron. We take the deaths of soldiers and move them off our balance sheets.
It's only by cooking the books in this way that Cheney could tell his AEI audience about the Bush Administration "policies that have kept our people safe since 9/11." That, after all, is a statement that only makes sense if we accept a definition of "our people" that excludes members of the American military.
I'd like to believe that we would stop accepting that twisted definition of "our people" if the number of American military deaths in the "war on terror" ever surpassed the number of Americans who died on 9/11. I'd like to believe that. But I know it's not true. The military toll surpassed the 9/11 toll way back in 2006. Yet nearly three full years after that tragic milestone and the thousands of deaths it encompasses, Cheney is able to tell us about the "policies that have kept our people safe since 9/11." And we're able to listen, saving our skepticism and outrage for Cheney's more newsworthy claims about waterboarding. We're able to tacitly accept the idea that the military dead don't count as "our people."
But how much is too much? When would the grim arithmetic of all these combat deaths force us to think differently? Would we still accept talk of "policies that have kept our people safe since 9/11" if 100,000 American soldiers died to spare 100 American civilians from a terrorist attack? How about if 1 million soldiers died to spare 10 civilians?
To be fair, our country does set aside today -- this one day out of every year -- to mark the sacrifices made by our military.
To be fair, Cheney made these two statements at AEI:
* "As in all warfare, there have been costs - none higher than the sacrifices of those killed and wounded in our country's service."
* "It's required the commitment of many thousands of troops in two theaters of war, with high points and some low points in both Iraq and Afghanistan - and at every turn, the people of our military carried the heaviest burden."
But scroll through the names below, the Americans killed in Iraq alone. Read their names and ask yourself if Cheney's two sentences, if our Memorial Day sales, if our cookouts, if our three-day weekends show sufficient respect to our war dead and to the families who have lost loved ones forever. Read their names and ask if we can really congratulate ourselves for "policies that have kept our people safe since 9/11."