Memorial Day and Reality

Like most these days, I enjoyed the long Memorial Day weekend without giving too much thought to why we celebrate the holiday. (Originally called Decoration Day, it began in 1868 to honor the Union soldiers killed in the Civil War.) And that’s too bad. We should stop to remember — and thank — the men and women (and their families) who have been killed protecting our freedom. Maybe when you get right down to it this is our most important federal holiday. I was thinking about that again this morning while taking a quick 3 a.m. check of my e-mail.

I had a news alert from The Wall Street Journal indicating that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is saying publicly that things aren’t going very well in Afghanistan and public support for the Afghan war will dissipate in less than a year unless the Obama administration achieves “a perceptible shift in momentum.” Good for Gates. And this isn’t a criticism of the U.S. troops who are fighting bravely — and still dying — in that country.

Here’s from the WSJ article:

The defense chief has been moving aggressively to salvage the war in Afghanistan, signing off on the deployments of 21,000 American military personnel and recently taking the unprecedented step of firing the four-star general who commanded all U.S. forces there. Mr. Gates, speaking in his cabin on an Air Force plane, said the administration is rapidly running out of time to turn around the war.

“People are willing to stay in the fight, I believe, if they think we’re making headway,” he said. “If they think we’re stalemated and having our young men and women get killed, then patience is going to run out pretty fast.”

OK. Back to reality. We appear to be making some progress in working our way out of the mess in Iraq. It ain’t going to be that easy in Afghanistan — ever, and no matter how many troops we send there and how many die as a result. Gates appears to be facing that reality with some truthful, honest disclosure. And I would like to see our troops home before we celebrate another Memorial Day.

By the way, I gained this perspective on Afghanistan by reading Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile, a writer and producer with CBS News. Read the book and you’ll understand why no country — including the Soviet Union — goes into Afghanistan without getting its lunch eaten.

That’s reality.

And don’t rent the movie by the same name and starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. The reality facing our military — men, women and their families — isn’t as funny as that movie made it out to be.

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