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My daughter the Naval Reservist was naturalized last Wednesday at the Los Angeles Convention Center, one of 3,369 new citizens — and voters — added to our rolls. (Even though it was after the Voter Registration deadline, new citizens are given an exemption. I took her to the Registrar of Voters the next day. I put the odds at over 2:1 that she supported me. Beyond that, I shall not say.)
It was a huge event. Naturally, you will want to see some photos, before I get down to the real meat of this essay. I think I can narrow it down to 16 in this section, then one in the next one.
1. Some Photos
Then — something happened! Our daughter came to the back section and told us that because she was military she’d get to sit in the very front — and we’d get to sit in the very front too, right behind her! Let’s see if that makes a difference.
2. Some Comments
We, my daughter’s family, were being used, of course. We hadn’t known about it in advance. It doesn’t really bother me — military recruitment is important and immigrants, especially middle-class ones like my kids, often use it as a means to swing their way upwards. Treating us so well — second-row seats! Walking out right after the troops, in front of thousands! — is a way of signaling to others the honors that accompany military service. This is what my daughter wants and my wife and I are happy to be supportive. And, after all, it’s not like it cost the government anything to show us a little extra (and enviable courtesy), right?
And that’s the part that makes me a little sad. This honor was given to us only because it cost nothing.
To the extent that it signaled to others watching that this was the sort of consideration one could expect, it was only partially true. Yes, these men and women who risk their lives do get some tangible benefits, as seems quite appropriate for life-risking — but more than that, they get words and gestures. We as a society like to think that we do right by our soldiers, seamen, and airmen — but the notion that we do doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The suicide rate among veterans, the homelessness among veterans, the disability among veterans — that is a part of the story that also needs to be remembered. It all testifies to the notion that when honoring military service really costs something, it is — naturally — less likely to occur.
Today we celebrate Memorial Day — the day that we take special care to honor our military dead, both those who died in or from battle (or preparing for it) and those who lived beyond their period of active service. And we are going to hear a lot of words, see a lot of gestures, watch politicians who hold the public purse strings compete with one another to show how much they care.
And this year, more than any other I can remember, to some extent the prospect of it really makes me sick.
Something, anyway, has made me sick — I’ve been mostly laid out in bed (or at the computer) since last Friday night, my trip to Vern’s concert yesterday having reinforced my suspicion that I should not be traveling around right now. I’m sorry that I won’t go to Irvine’s Memorial Day commemoration at 10 a.m., because I’ve made a lot of friends with veterans in the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Committee (OCVMP) over the past four months — and if they’re going to be there then I’d like to be there too.
At the same time, though, I’m sort of glad that I won’t be. As everyone knows, I hate to be rude — but I might have a hard time suppressing it this morning if I were there.
The notion of Irvine Mayor Steven Choi and Councilmember Christine Shea “honoring” veterans today sickens me. They’ll do so at a time when they are both working so hard (and in Choi’s case, I’m sorry to say, also deviously) to block Irvine from giving the state land on which the federal government would pay to build a Veterans Cemetery on the site of Marine Corps Air Station El Toro — which so far as I’m concerned we might as well stop calling the “Great Park.”
A veterans cemetery in Orange County will cost the federal government some money, it’s true. This isn’t because the federal government would be making new promises of new benefits to veterans. It’s because veterans who have already been promised burial in veterans cemeteries haven’t been taking it — because, in both Orange County and the LA Basin in particular, the place where they’d have to be buried is out in Riverside. (Riverside isn’t that far as the crow flies, but driving there from most of OC can be prolonged agony, especially for people who can’t afford tolls. And many people who go visit loved ones in such cemeteries tend to be old and frail.) So, for now, they turn down those benefits. And, in the future, they will be more likely to take them if a cemetery is built in Irvine.
And that’s GOOD! It’s not bad, it’s not unjust, it’s not wasteful — unless we think that it’s somehow best for us to swindle veterans with promises of benefits that they won’t take. It’s HONORABLE.
And sometimes, you know, it’s fine that being honorable cost you, costs us, something. It keeps us honest. And, yes, such costs should make us think twice about the price of war. If there’s no effort in something — if, for example, one is simply giving a speech to look good to voters — then there’s no honor in it.
The fact that some of Irvine’s politicians — for all their talk and gesturing — are unprepared to pay a real cost to honor veterans is one of the saddest things that I can recall in local politics. It is not even a cost to Irvine’s taxpayers, but a cost to a major campaign contributor, Five Point, that wants to pad a little extra money onto their profits for the houses they plan to build in the vicinity. Their business plan is to sell the houses to mainland Chinese investors trying to spirit their profits from a questionably stable communist-led country to the relative safety of Orange County. And politicians like Shea and Choi and Bob Huff are saying that they won’t be able to do that if a cemetery is built there, because according to principles of feng shui living next to a cemetery is bad luck — and of course we must be respectful of the customs of Chinese Communists bearing currency! Honoring our commitment to veterans is one thing, but feng shui — and maximizing profit — are a higher purpose!
This is such a slap in the face to veterans that I still really can’t believe that they’re doing it. And for them to come out today, presuming that they do, and act like they’re on the side of veterans is too revolting even for a practiced cynic like me.
I’m leaving the Council’s deciding vote, Jeff Lalloway, out of my condemnations above because I — foolishly, perhaps — still have faith that he will not be stupid and/or evil enough to renege on the public commitment that he made to bring a veterans cemetery to the Great Park. Words are not enough; given Mayor Choi’s obstructionism, Lalloway has to act — he has to get Choi off of that committee if he’s going to “slow walk” it. “Thanks for the appointment to this urgent committee, sorry that I’m not free for the next two months!” on Choi’s part is not acceptable. Lalloway has to put a stop to it — even if it means joining with his pair of political adversaries and taking Choi off of the committee. If he doesn’t understand this, he has to be made to understand it. I hope that veterans will speak their minds to him today; I hope that he will engage them with an open mind, an open heart, and courage to do the right thing.
As I’ve told my colleagues at OCVMP, although I am very sympathetic to veterans’ desires in this matter, I don’t see my own constituency group as a committee member as being veterans themselves. I’m not a veteran; I’m a parent of one, part of a military family, put to use by the government for purposes of recruitment. It’s the interests of those loved ones that motivates me most, that makes the creation of a cemetery on the proposed site seem obvious. And the pain that I recognize in those peers of mine is that pain that I can imagine of my daughter, should she die during military service, not being able to take advantage of the benefit that she was promised, because we know very well — statistics show us — that like other families we will not be likely to go to Riverside to visit her if she is buried there. (Traffic is only going to get worse. As you may have heard, developers are building more and more houses.)
My daughter, a fluent Tagalog speaker, is likely to volunteer to go to the reopened naval base in the Philippines, given the serious escalation of tensions between China and other countries in the oil-rich South China Sea. That is potentially deadly work. I don’t think that it’s too much to ask that if she leaves this world a hero that the country that made promises to her will treat her like one. And that includes the prospect of burial, like so many of her colleagues here, in the 3 million-plus county where she lives.
If Five Point doesn’t like it, perhaps they can revise their business plan. For some of us — for example, veterans themselves — the prospect of living near a veterans cemetery is not an insult to feng shui — it’s an HONOR. Perhaps, this Memorial Day, visitors to Irvine will help them see the light.