This has been the road to oblivion and it's paved with forgotten bodies. Forgetfulness, of course, comes at a price, which includes the escalating long-term costs of paying for the American war-wounded and war-traumatized. On this Memorial Day, there will undoubtedly be much cant in the form of tributes to "our heroes" and then, Tuesday morning, when the mangled cars have been towed away, the barbeque grills cleaned, and the "heroes" set aside, the forgetting will continue. If the Obama administration has its way and American special operations forces, trainers, and advisors in reduced but still significant numbers remain in Afghanistan until perhaps 2024, we have more than another decade of forgetting ahead of us in a tragedy that will, by then, be beyond all comprehension.
Afghanistan has often enough been called "the graveyard of empires." Americans have made it a habit to whistle past that graveyard, looking the other way—a form of obliviousness much aided by the fact that the American war dead conveniently come from the less well known or forgotten places in our country. They are so much easier to ignore thanks to that.
Except in their hometowns, how easy the war dead are to forget in an era when corporations go to war but Americans largely don't. So far, 1,980 American military personnel (and significant but largely unacknowledged numbers of private contractors) have died in Afghanistan, as have 1,028 NATO and allied troops, and (despite U.N. efforts to count them) unknown but staggering numbers of Afghans.
So far in the month of May, 22 American dead have been listed in those Pentagon announcements. If you want a little memorial to a war that shouldn't be, check out their hometowns and you'll experience a kind of modern graveyard poetry. Consider it an elegy to the dead of second- or third-tier cities, suburbs, and small towns whose names are resonant exactly because they are part of your country, but seldom or never heard by you.
Here, then, on this Memorial Day, are not the names of the May dead, but of their hometowns, announcement by announcement, placed at the graveside of a war that we can't bear to remember and that simply won't go away. If it's the undead of wars, the deaths from it remain a quiet crime against American humanity:
Spencerport, New York
West Chester, Ohio
Charlotte, North Carolina
Round Rock, Texas
Lucerne Valley, California
Las Cruses, New Mexico
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Overland Park, Kansas
Prince George, Virginia
Terre Haute, Indiana.
As long as the hometowns pile up, no one should rest in peace.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book is The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books). To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which he discusses what Americans should consider remembering on Memorial Day, click here or download it to your iPod here. [Note on Further Reading: For those interested in exploring the history of Memorial Day, there's no better place to visit than the always fascinating website History News Network. For carefully put together records on American and NATO deaths in Afghanistan, visit icasualties.org. Simply to keep up on American war news, not always the easiest thing in the mainstream media these days, make sure to visit Antiwar.com (as I do daily).] Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.