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Friday, July 30, 2010
Any remaining popularity I had?

Shot to hell.

One of the stories dominating the news this week has been about a massive screw-up at Arlington National Cemetery, the largest and best known place where America buries her war dead.

The mistakes are many and they are various. Graves unmarked or marked incorrectly. Grave site maps with erroneous information. Caskets and cremation urns with different people in them occupying the same grave site. Cremation urns being found in piles of fill dirt. At last check, 6600 graves could be either wrongly marked or unmarked.

It's disgraceful. There's really no better way to say it. The remains of the men and women who fought and died defending our country deserve far better treatment than to be misfiled like so much useless paperwork.

Between 2002 and 2009, $5.5 million to $8 million was spent on contracts to automate Arlington's paper-based operations, yet the cemetery still has no computer system to track graves and manage burials. The incompetence is criminal, and one has to wonder whether there hasn't been some misappropriation of funds, embezzlement, call it whatever you want.

I agree absolutely that when it is your job to do something, then you really ought to try and do it the way it's supposed to be done. There is always someone up the chain you can consult with if you have questions, or don't understand some part of your job. What was required of the administration at Arlington was to receive the remains of our honored dead, and not mishandle or lose them. It's a big job, but not that complicated.

Everyone involved in this fiasco should be fired, and charged, if malfeasance can be proven.

This is where I get my ass kicked.

If one of your loved ones was affected, I am sorry for that. If you traveled to Arlington (and I encourage everyone to do so), visited the final resting place of your serviceperson, and it turns out you happened to be standing over the remains of some other person...

Well, practically speaking, what difference does it make?

I am not trying to be flippant, I want to make that clear. I know with certainty that I am going to stand alone on this opinion. I feel like once a person is dead, what happens to the corpse is of almost no importance. I'm likely to go with cremation, and that's only because I can't convince anyone that I would actually prefer to have my body dumped in a river or field where it can do the planet a small measure of good. I understand funerals are for the living, but realistically, so are burial sites, head stones, mausoleums and all the rest. We seem to want to have a place to visit the departed, and the nicer it is, the less bad we feel about it.

Admittedly, if you paid for that (and handsomely, no doubt), then you want the place to be nice. I get that. You purchased a small piece of real estate, and generally maintenance is part of the contract. So, if the marker is clean, the lawn is tended, and the flowers are tasteful, what difference does it make which remains you're standing over, if any?

I know some people go out to grave sites, and speak to the departed, and it can be therapeutic. I'm not opposed to that, or whatever helps people deal with grief. I don't think they're prone to speaking back, and I would humbly suggest that if they do, that's obviously being generated within the visitor's imagination. Again, whatever helps the living feel better is okay.

I'm not for cover-ups, especially with this kind of gross incompetence. Ideally, the responsible people would be punished, fired, prosecuted, whatever remedies are available for this sort of thing. I guess I'd have preferred if it somehow could have been handled internally, since the publicity and righteously thunderous Congressional speechifying results mostly in additional crushing heartbreak for the families of America's war dead. Even worse, families who aren't actually affected will always wonder if perhaps their deceased is one of the mishandled or mislabeled.

And for what? To carry on eons-old superstitious traditions of visiting the bones of our dead? What good is it?

On the day you read this, an American man or woman will die in Iraq or Afghanistan. A small handful of people will ask why this person needed to die, whether it was necessary. The rest of us, if we even bother to become aware of it, will shake our heads slowly, and think, "Well, I sure hope the remains are dealt with properly for the family's sake."

Traditions can be glorious, and they often give us a sense of community and country. We have some wonderful ones in the United States.

The one where the dust of the dead is considered more sacred than the skin of the living is one we would do far better to outgrow.

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posted at 11:19 PM

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