Editorial: Death Tolls

I’ve recently returned from Iran and I’m already annoying friends and family. Whatever the topic of conversation I add comments about the Islamic Republic. “When I was in Iran…” “That’s just like in Iran …” “The way they do that in Iran is …”

As I write this it’s Memorial Day. The way they do it Iran is that everyday is a memorial day. In a big city it’s hard to go a few blocks without running into a mural or billboard commemorating a martyr from the Iran/Iraq war. The government isn’t going to let anyone forget the soldiers that died. While some may say that Iran glorifies it’s war dead, and that the repressive government derives much of its strength from the aftermath of the war, I think there is something to emulate here.

In the United States the average citizen is insulated from the human cost of Afghanistan and Iraq.

I open up the Spokesman-Review on Memorial Day and the front page is filled with portraits of our area’s war dead. This is important, but it’s not enough. How can we, as civilians, make informed choices about U.S. policy and elect the right leaders if U.S. military casualties are just something we think about one day a year?

In Tehran we visited the Cemetery of the Martyrs. Some 40,000 of Iran’s almost half a million war dead are buried there. I noticed our guide, not an overly emotional man, is close to tears as he described what it was like, as a teenager in Tehran, when the city was being bombed by Iraq everyday. He said thousands of civilians died in Tehran alone. Our guide said the United States and some European countries helped arm and support Saddam Hussein in his aggression against Iran. Why did they do that? Why did all these people have to die?

I didn’t have an answer for that. All around me were grave markers with large color photos of the dead. A few feet away a woman was bent in mourning for a son who died twenty years ago. The Iran/Iraq war, always a Reagan era abstraction, is now suddenly very real. The sadness was overwhelming there, but it was something I needed to take with me. Perhaps the best memorial the war dead can have are a living populace that thinks long, and thinks hard before allowing their leaders to put soldiers in harms way. Or supports other leaders that do.

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