Earlier this week, a photo popped up showing my little sister pinning on one of my gold bars as I was commissioned an Army  2nd Lieutenant out of the OCS Brigade at Ft. Knox, Kentucky in 1969. Ten months and 10 days after enlisting in the OCS program, I’d been propelled from recruit to officer. I had skipped my college graduation in May in order to take a cruise of Lake Michigan and the North Channel with my family before reporting for duty. My enlistment was forced by the draft, which proposed to grab me within two weeks of graduation.

What followed were two years of active service, in places ranging from the Army War College (where I served as officer in charge of 43 military funerals at Gettysburg National Cemetery) to working as a press escort officer out of a forward corps press camp in Vietnam.

While a proper sense of the appropriateness of honoring those who fought and died in war was imbued in me through my own service and exposure, it was only years later that I learned that the war in Vietnam had been extended, with the loss of 20,000 additional Americans and a million Asians, by a political calculation to Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger when they maneuvered to cancel the proposed Paris Peace Talks of 1969 in order to deny the Democrats the Presidential election that year.

My god, how can politicians play tinker toys with the lives of millions of people, as if we were just pawns on a board? And that’s just what they did, and what they have continued to do in the generations since Vietnam, despite the lessons we could have learned there, but didn’t.

So, this Memorial Day, I do mourn the lost, those who were sacrificed as much as gave sacrifice for their country. But I also mourn the continuation of the crass, inhuman brand of politics that characterize the highest levels of leadership in our country., then and now.  If only humanity were our true brand of politics, and that humanitarians were our one and only brand of politicians.

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