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Getting Real About Memorial Day—The Way Paul Wellstone Did | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Getting Real About Memorial Day—The Way Paul Wellstone Did

There are good wars and bad wars. For most Americans, it was easy to support World War II, as a necessary struggle to halt the spread of fascism and, ultimately, to free people in distant lands to govern their own affairs.

It has always been harder to make a case for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But we have enough money to pay for wars, even bad wars.

So we had better have enough money for the warriors and their families, even when the fighting is done.

That's a calculus that make a sense on Memorial Day.

But it only matters if Americans make the same calculation every day—and if we tell members of Congress that there are certain priorities that cannot be compromised.  If it takes more tax dollars to do right be those who fought our wars, then it takes more tax dollars. No compromises. No excuses.

Congress can always come up with an argument for giving veterans less than they need. It is they same argument that is peddled for giving school children and laid-off workers and struggling farmers the support that a decent society provides. That argument claims that, after paying off the bankers with bailouts, the wealthy with tax cuts and the defense contractors with endless spending for endless warmaking, there is no money left for the Americans who sacrifice and suffer in the service of this country.

The late Paul Wellstone put it best when he addressed a national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars some years ago.

"I think that politics in Washington—the Administration and Congress—have run out of good excuses. I hope that at this 99th convention that there will be a demand that a positive veterans agenda be put back on the table with a real focus on good health care for veterans. I hope the VFW will lead the charge. You’ve done it before, do it again," Wellstone told the veterans, many of whom differed with his foreign policy stances but revered him for his commitment to provide the funding needed for VA hospitals and programs to aid homeless Vietnam veterans.

When Wellstone sought reelection in 2002, he had the strong support of veterans' groups like the VFW—even after he courageously opposed the rush to war in Iraq in 2002.

That's because they understood, as we all should, that Wellstone was right when he said that:  "if patriotism is to mean anything, it must mean keeping the faith with those whom the Nation plucked from their youth and transported to distant shores to fight in the unspeakable horror of war."

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