As a mom of a soldier, I have developed a Memorial Day phobia. This is the American holiday devoted to those who die in military service to the USA. And, I am ever more aware, there are many. I cringe and must force myself to read their news. In the last 20 years, the average/year has dropped from about 2000 to about 1500. About a third are from hostile action (what you think of in military deaths), a third from accidents (training and deploying are DANGEROUS), and the other third is split between physical and mental illness, meaning sickness or self-harm. Except for 1983, vanishingly few are due to terrorism (terrorists target unarmed civilians, after all). This document gives all the official stats from the Revolutionary War to now, when wars have such double-speak vague names it's hard to tell just what they refer to. Those are stats. But to understand them, you have to also know the stories. Each of those deaths represents a person of courage and promise, a family of sacrifice and pride, a system that worked or failed. Unlike other risk statistics, most of the USA military dead are white males.
But the most recent death I've read about is not, and it's one of the saddest. 2nd Lt Richard Collins III, days away from his college graduation, on a track much like Caleb's, an officer, jump qualified, and athlete, a leader. He was standing at a campus bus stop late at night. A drunk, belligerent student who was a member of a white-supremacist online group approached him and told him to move. He didn't, so the assailant stabbed him. Fatally. For nothing other than standing at a bus stop, and standing up to a bully. For being black? Seems so. Would he have been safer in Iraq than in Maryland?
This follows only a couple of days after two other men, one an army veteran, were stabbed on a bus in Oregon because they stood up to a man harassing women. Women wearing muslim dress. None of these three were technically killed in action this week as active duty US Military, but all three represent the meaning of Memorial Day, putting your body in harm's way to stop evil.
Our values of justice under the law without bias for all, of freedom to speak, assemble, worship, choose, of work and community and innovation, of opportunity . . . all of these hinge upon people of principle who stand up to bullies, who draw a line for evil and say, no further. Sometimes on a national scale, sometimes very personal. Sometimes the line between right and wrong is clear--I had 7 uncles in WW2, all of whom came home alive, hiding the scars of their traumas, all resilient good men who lived long lives with their families. Most times it is not, as I think my cousins who fought in Viet Nam would attest, with their more difficult re-entries. But in a world where hate accesses knives and bombs, it remains essential to have a counter-force answerable to the public, controlled by clear directives, and willing to pay the highest price so the rest of us don't have to.
Here in Kenya, it's just another Monday. But if you're in America and celebrating a long weekend, picnic weather, family and friends, remember why you can.