Memorial Day started as Decoration Day after the Civil War to commemorate fallen Union and Confederate soldiers. It’s been extended to remember all those who died serving in United States Armed Forces. It’s worthy. But it understates those who have died from U.S. military operations.
Civilians die when they live on soil surrounding warring armies. Losses are usually greater than those in the military.
We’ve experienced civilian deaths on our soil. In the Revolutionary war 147,000 civilians died along with 70,000 U.S. soldiers according to a source on answers.yahoo.com. Civil War estimates are around 800,000 civilians died on both sides, matching the estimated 800,000 military forces, Civilians died in the War of 1812, the war by the Republic of Texas for independence, and in my lifetime, Pearl Harbor and the attack of 911.
Beginning in 1600, uncounted numbers have died in the American Indian Wars, defined by the University of Idaho’s research website as “a series of conflicts between White settlers or the federal government and the indigenous population of North America.”
Native Americans have fought alongside and against settlers and U.S. soldiers since the Revolutionary War. Should we remember their warriors like we honor the Confederate dead?
The unofficial conduct of the Indian wars included dispensing smallpox infected blankets and clothing that decimated Native American populations. Sherman Alexie, the best-selling, award winning author and poet who calls himself a Spokane/Coeur D’Alene Indian, wrote about learning the smallpox vaccination was discovered in 1796.
In his 2014 book of poems, What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned, he said, “Do you know how many Indians died of smallpox after 1796? Millions! Just when you think the United States couldn’t have been more genocidal, you discover more evidence.”
Warriors worldwide sacrifice civilians. I read Rana Mitter’s book, Forgotten Ally: China’s WWII 1937-1945, because my dad fought alongside the Nationalist Chinese commanded by Chiang Kai-Shek. In 1938 Chiang was losing his poorly equipped and untrained armies to the Japanese. Desperate to stop the advance, Chiang breeched the dykes containing the Yellow River, killing an estimated 500,000 and creating 3-million to 5-million refugees of unsuspecting peasants. It was a temporary advantage. Meanwhile Mao Tse-Tung withheld his troops for later fights with both the Japanese and Nationalists.
My dad was stationed in Yunnan province in WWII where the ethnic Yi Governor Long Yun and his strong army resisted slaughtering oxen to fortify U.S. Armed Forces with beef in their diet. He told Chiang the oxen were essential to till the province’s grain supply. Mitter said, “The cost to China [of supplying US troops] was rarely acknowledged.”
As we remember all who died in wars, I want to believe they died only as a last resort, so their sacrifice and all future sacrifices come from wars that minimize military and civilian casualties.
The father of our country stretched out the American Revolutionary War by avoiding battles, savings thousands of lives until we won our freedom. Texas president Sam Houston criticized the battle at the Alamo as an unnecessary sacrifice and maneuvered his forces to defeat the invading Mexican army with a surprise attack and fewer casualties.
Years of broken promises convinced Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse they had to go to war against the United States. Custer blundered into them and lost his force, but the chiefs were dead within five years, their men, women and children slaughtered or on reservations, a furious revenge unleashed by anger over massacres of soldiers and settlers on the plains. They were all in my thoughts last Memorial Day.
War is such a tragedy I’d like Memorial Day officially dedicated to a longer roll call of U.S. military forces and civilians who died in our military conflicts.