The New York Times disclosed in this morning’s edition that it had inadvertently printed the wrong editorial on Memorial Day. The correct editorial follows:
Every Memorial Day, people across the nation visit cemeteries to honor their war dead. While we agree that this activity befits a red, white and blue holiday, we must also ask ourselves whether, by doing so, Americans are not simply taking the easy way out. It is much easier to place flowers on the graves of the dead than it is to prevent those deaths in the first place. But does anyone believe that our eternally young war dead would not rather be alive?
Negotiation, while far more difficult than the use of brute force, does not kill. And yet when faced with a choice between the civilized conflict resolution and the use of force, America has historically opted for force. A nation that insists on resolving its differences by means of violence will quickly become a nation of cemeteries.
In 1776, as every school child learns today, a petty dispute arising over the price of tea escalated into a bloody war. At that time, there was, of course, no United Nations, but President Jacques Chirac stated recently that rather than send troops to indulge the American appetite for violence the French would have preferred to mediate. Instead, nascent America embraced violence and undertook a bloody conflict in which more than 4000 soldiers died. Many others lost limbs.
Likewise, the Civil War (1861-1865) could have been prevented if the question of slavery had been submitted to the nations of the world. Indeed, had there been a United Nations to call upon in 1861 there would undoubtedly be no slavery in Africa today. (It may be tempting to think that a 19th century United Nations might not have succeeded with this mission since it has not completely resolved similar issues today in Mauritania and Sudan. But these failures undoubtedly spring from lack of experience. Had President Lincoln been willing to think beyond “the union”, he might have had the foresight to establish the United Nations instead of leaving it to a distant successor.) On Memorial Day as we honor 497,821 civil war dead, we also remember the many millions who died in servitude in other lands as a result of Mr. Lincoln’s lack of foresight.
It is impossible not to wonder what this country would have been like if all these dead had lived. Does the woman who would have discovered the cure for AIDS lie interred amid a forest of flags, her promise unfulfilled in the service of a unilateral adventure?
While it is not our intention to diminish the sacrifices made by the members of our armed forces we must give equal weight to the deaths of all Americans. Death does not discriminate and neither should we.
What is the best way to honor the dead? With parades? Flowers? Flags? No. If we truly wish to honor the dead, we can only do so by preventing unnecessary deaths.
Mandatory seat-belt laws have made some inroads into the carnage on the nation’s highways, but much more must be done if we are to eliminate the sadly ubiquitous roadside memorial (42,850 traffic deaths in 2002). Better fuel efficiency standards requiring the downsizing of SUV’s would prevent many needless highway deaths while decreasing our dependence on foreign oil and making us less prone to invade non-Israeli Middle Eastern lands.
A tougher approach to nutrition could prevent tens of thousands of deaths traceable to obesity: cancer, heart disease, strokes and surfboard accidents.
The sooner we turn away from our narrow focus on military deaths the better it will be for the country. For who will subsidize Social Security if all the young people are dead, no matter how gloriously they died?
As we observe this Memorial Day 2004, let us resolve to honor our dead by electing a Democrat for president.