In the famous comedy series M*A*S*H, McLean Stevenson, in the role of Col. Henry Blake tells Alan Alda’s character Hawkeye that there are two rules about war.
“Rule one is that young men die. Rule two is doctors can’t change rule number one.”
It was a sobering comment, delivered as it was when fighting in Vietnam was at its peak. It was true, too, in the war that series represented, the Korean War. And it’s been true even more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Death is a part of war. The United States, for all the pride it has in its role as a world superpower, has an awfully long list of men and women who perished in war helping build or retain that position.
It’s an awful experience for the family left behind and, at best, it’s an uncomfortable proposition for most of the rest of us.
A trip to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. is about as stark a reminder of the cost of war as any we’ve ever seen. The list of names on the seemingly endless granite wall, almost seem to run together. Most of them are faceless, characterless people to us.
It’s almost as if we’ve become hardened to the fact that keeping ourselves out in front in the race for world superiority is worth the cost of some names on a rock slab.
On Sunday, in Wendell, and on Monday in many, many other places, lots of people will gather to pay their respects to those people who fought and died in one of America’s wars. But most of us will be thinking about people we don’t even know.
Nevertheless, we should be asking ourselves if war is worth the cost of even one death.
That’s one family without a son, husband or father. One family that’s seen a chunk of its being snatched irrevocably away. There are no do-overs. No changing our minds.
We’ll remember nameless, faceless war dead over this holiday weekend, oh, yes. We should be remembering how awful is the cost of war.
Memories like those would make us want to search high and low for different alternatives. A death in war, sadly, never serves a lasting purpose, no matter how noble the intentions are.