Remembering Soldiers, By Forgetting About Britney And Paris




 
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Remembering Soldiers, By Forgetting About Britney And Paris
 
May 27th, 2007  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Remembering Soldiers, By Forgetting About Britney And Paris


Remembering Soldiers, By Forgetting About Britney And Paris
New York Times
May 27, 2007
Pg. 27
By Peter Applebome
LONG BEACH, N.Y.--IT must have been the only city manager’s memorandum in history to address the war in Iraq, the American flag, Paris Hilton, Anna Nicole Smith and Britney Spears in three very short paragraphs.
But for a few days, at least, it made Edwin L. Eaton a minor folk hero — one small voice trying to remind the nation what matters and what doesn’t in the million-channel blabfest that is American life.
Mr. Eaton’s May 16 memo took notice of the attention given those three pillars of pop culture, cited a need to “in some small way place things in perspective,” and then went on: “While our society and media outlets appear to be consumed by the activities of the ‘glitterati,’ we tend to forget that each day Americans are anonymously dying in Iraq. I think it only fair that they be remembered and honored. To achieve that end, we hereby direct that American flags throughout the city be flown at half-mast.”
The six flags at city buildings in this Long Island community were then lowered, and will remain that way indefinitely.
Mr. Eaton’s little protest began in the same way as much of American life does: He was watching television. He and his wife were watching a program — he’s not sure which one — when finally he went over the edge. “It was a half-hour of talking about the pretty people, I think it was something about Anna Nicole Smith’s baby teething, and then Britney Spears with her shaved head and wig and then, oh, by the way, five men got killed in Iraq and three are missing and then back to Paris Hilton’s personal trainer,” he said.
The next day he told council members of his idea, and the day after that he sent out his memo. Reported by Newsday, picked up by the wires, Mr. Eaton’s small protest brought him calls, letters and e-mail messages of support from around the country. “What has happened to us?” read one. “I salute you sir and keep up the good work. Maybe with people like you we can regain some sense of what is important in this life.”
Most people who wrote him applauded his support for the military. Some saw an antiwar message. But Mr. Eaton said he didn’t feel it was the role of Long Beach to cast judgment on the war, and he wasn’t doing that. It was more a show of respect, he said, a request that attention be paid.
“It’s not supposed to set off a grass-roots movement,” he said. “It’s not an antiwar statement. It was just one small government’s collective irritation. It was more making the statement: ‘Someone’s thinking of you guys.’ ”
Monday, of course, is the day we collectively honor the dead, not just from this war but from the others as well. The man most involved with that in Long Beach is John R. Radin Sr., 71, an American Legion stalwart who’s in charge of this year’s parade here. His home two blocks from the beach was full of ribbons and flags and pins. In a cabinet he keeps a stack of blue star banners, which symbolize service in the military.
During World War I and World War II, he said, residents could walk through neighborhoods and see the blue star banners in the front windows of house after house. The American Legion, he said, is trying to revive that tradition. But if it does catch on, it might send a somewhat unsettling message — many banners in modest neighborhoods, next to none in those where the financial inducements for military service don’t outweigh the physical risks.
“That’s why I’m for a draft,” Mr. Radin said. “When I served, I had doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs, guys who wanted to be priests, guys who wanted to be rabbis, college graduates, guys who quit high school. I think we’d have less problems if everyone served.”
But none of his seven children served in the military. And as for Mr. Eaton’s message, Mr. Radin appreciates the sentiment but has his qualms. One issue is with the parade.
The Memorial Day observance usually ends with the flag being raised from half-staff after the playing of taps. That won’t happen this time.
Instead it will remain lowered, raising a new question. There’s not likely to be a joyful Armistice Day ending this war. So having lowered the flag, when is it raised again?
Still, on a gorgeous day at the beach, with its Maginot line of volleyball nets, its signs promising new million-dollar condominiums in what has been a largely middle-class town, it’s a question that seems far, far away.
That seems especially true for the young who generally said they respected those who served but had no desire to join them. “I wouldn’t want to bring my mom the pain of being one of those bodies found floating in the river,” said Marciano Etienne, a senior at Valley Stream Central High School.
Even without Misses Hilton and Spears, we don’t lack for diversions, the war is distant and depressing, and even Mr. Eaton says his memo can only go so far. “It’s symptomatic of our species,” he said. “We don’t want to dwell on unpleasantness, you don’t want to talk about gore and the mayhem of war every day. You need to keep your sanity. We’re just saying let’s give a little more thought in the other direction.”