Alas, What Mighty Props Have Fallen:
On this Memorial Day, George W. Bush will lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, some time just before lunch hour, as he has done every year of his presidency, save for 2002, when he was speaking at Normandy. In 2001 and 2002, Bush's speechwriters had to rely on the dead of other wars in the humanizing anecdote sections of the remembrance. It was war orphans and D-Day soldiers in Europe. It was a list of Arlington corpses who in repose and rot were greater than the speaker: "President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert; General George C. Marshall; Second Lieutenant Audie Murphy of Kingston, Texas; General Chappy James; Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. of the Union Army; Captain Robert Todd Lincoln; Generals Bradley and Pershing; Admirals Leahy and Rickover; and three of the men who planted the flag at Iwo Jima."
Then, in 2003, Bush got his own props, the dead of his own pre-fab war. In that year, he talked about Army Captain James Adamouski of Springfield, Virginia; Staff Sergeant Lincoln Hollinsaid of Malden, Illinois; and Captain Russell Rippetoe. In 2004, he hid behind the bodies of Captain Joshua Byers of South Carolina; Sergeant Major Michael Stack; Master Sergeant Kelly Hornbeck of Fort Worth, Texas; and Private First Class Jesse Givens of Springfield, Missouri. At least three of these soldiers died because of improvised explosive devices that blew up their vehicles. One can't help but wonder if those Humvees had been properly armored if those men would have been available to be George Bush's Memorial Day props.
And, of course, one must wonder who'll make the cut this year, whose family is mourning properly, which soldiers had children they left behind. Which of the hundreds who have died since last Memorial Day will be invoked to humanize the speaker, to give the illusion that he cares?
Memorial Day, of course, began as Decoration Day, when the living would place flowers and flags and mementos on the graves of the Civil War dead. Today, some still do that, but mostly, like the change of the name, our active participation is now simply as ephemeral as a thought.
Update, Memorial Day, 2005: Now we know who this year's props are: Marine Captain Ryan Beaupre of St. Anne, Illinois; Army Sergeant Michael Evans of Marrero, Louisiana; and Lance Corporal Darrell Schumann of Hampton, Virginia. As he did before, Bush read from their last letters, including ones only to be opened in the event of their deaths. In the end, he made this bizarre statement: "A day will come when there will be no one left who knew the men and women buried here." Perhaps, yes, perhaps. But not in the years and years to come.