There's never any news that comes out of Memorial Day and it's so reflexively politicized -- praising the work of American soldiers is pro-Iraq; expressing sorrow for those who have died is subversively anti -- so it often just gets left off of blogs altogether. But I always find it an interesting moment to reflect on leaders' attitudes towards the people they command: Do they seem to have any interest in veterans, any real humility in the face of soldiers' work, any sense of the awesome responsibility they have to ensure that the battles into which they send their country's newly-hatched adults are handled with the very best judgment?
The most serious understanding of his responsibility towards his soldiers probably was Lincoln's: He vacationed at a veterans' home, often talked of his tangible grief for the dead, and felt their ghosts constantly with him as he pored over his battle maps. More than that, he always tried to evoke to the public the true scale of its loss and to justify what that loss was for -- a duty our current regime, in its efforts to keep images of the Iraq dead out of the newspapers, doesn't appear to feel as heavily. Old Abe should have taught us that expressing the terrible weight of what's been lost when we go to war isn't automatically an antiwar or undermining gesture; just the opposite. I don't want to presume what kind of sorrow for the Iraq dead is or isn't inside of Bush's heart, but his eternal need to portray the war as sunny and low-sacrifice is simply at odds with sincerely feeling its losses. He's a man who has no interest in follow-through, who blocks the hard stuff out, like his poll numbers.
So I don't recommend his Memorial Day statement. But try this moving meditation in the Post by an Army officer who goes to the funerals of enlisted men killed in Iraq -- it's collection of interesting thoughts on who bears the sacrifice and how, but one that doesn't work too hard to press points.