Last week, an ordinary, nineteen-year-old guy with a shy smile was the focus of attention in a tiny Midwestern town -- a village, actually. Many of its 750-or-so residents showed up at the high school gymnasium to pay tribute to him. Many watched or were in his parade, including a huge contingent of motorcyclists from the central part of the state.
I was in town that day.
The village is our county seat, and the boy's name is Ryan, and he was a local kid who'd been killed by a roadside bomb, one of those insidious IEDs, in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. The gathering at the high school was his memorial service. The long parade was his funeral procession.
All national and state flags were at half staff. Each lamppost bore lengths of black and yellow ribbon tied into a bow signifying "gone but not forgotten." Those dozens upon dozens of bikers, few of whom actually knew Ryan, were gathering in the only places either appropriate or large enough for them to gather -- the mortuary parking lot and the supermarket parking lot just down the street.
Of course I understood why these events were taking place -- the rituals meant to honor the soldier, the organized outpouring of respect for him -- but I'll be dicked if I can figure out why they had to take place, why this sudden, senseless death happened at all. And why thousands of similar funerals have taken place all across the nation.
The U.S. hasn't sacrificed its young citizens to a "good" war since the 1940s -- a war with a clear goal, a war that could substantially and permanently change the world for the better. On Independence Day, it's especially difficult to reconcile the ideals of the Founding Fathers with the senseless carnage we've been engaged in all too often since the Revolution. Far too many brave men and women have died or been scarred for no discernible reason. Far too many will continue to die. I don't know why our leaders can't pull their heads out of their asses and recognize lost causes when they see them, conflicts in which we have no business meddling: Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and now Afghanistan, with many smaller ones in between.
Why can't we at least pick our battles more wisely?
If only the Fourth of July could still be a celebration of one of the good wars. If only it didn't now come bundled with so much grief . . .