The city where I live, an undistinguished place in Massachusetts, is getting ready to build a replica of the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. It is a thing keenly desired by the population, most of whom make less that $30,000 a year, which is a hell of a lot less in Massachusetts than it is in Georgia.
It's an old city. We have a monument to every war this country's ever fought, including a monument to the boys who fought the Spanish-American War. It's a bronze statue on a traffic island. The junkies stand on the traffic island and ask drivers stopped at the light for change. Nearly everyone I've ever spoken to believes the Spanish-American War monument is a World War I monument. I was born here, and I believed that until I was 50.
No matter. The Spanish-American boys are gone like the nickel beer.
We as a nation currently feel bad about Vietnam vets, who, we endlessly say, were never "welcomed home."
So we build walls and monuments. We rename traffic islands, and the junkies, some of them Afghanistan vets with poison raging in their blood, stand and ask us for change.
And no matter how many statues and walls we erect for the brave heroes of the lost war in Vietnam, we keep electing men who ducked the draft like you duck a punch, or ran like you run from the ball in a game of dodgeball.
Bill Clinton was no soldier. They came to get him, and he rabbited. Trump? Bone spurs. Trump didn't go to Vietnam until the shooting had been over for a long time.
What are we telling that older Vietnam vet with the grind of shrapnel in his knee, with the fire-bright, frightening dreams?
We're telling him (and her) that concrete is easier to get your hand on than honor. We're telling that state Rep. McRunforit, who still remembers the thrill of that fourth college deferment, is a better man than some paddy-slogging fool who came home from 'Nam and drove a truck for the next 40 years, unheralded, unwelcome-ed and never having the money or the time to run for office.
All these years, and we still don't know how to feel about that war, except that we don't blame anyone for not going, but we want to honor those who did with concrete, because is concrete is cheaper than a lot of other things.
In Dollar Store America, we don't want to do anything, but we want to "respect the flag," and "support our troops," because those things, like concrete monuments, are cheap.
Cheap slogans we can chant. Cheap Chinese-made banners. Cheap monuments. Cheap flags on a stick. Give a half-buck to the veteran on the traffic island. It's cheap! If he gets 10 sports like you to give him a half-buck each, he can buy a bag of heroin. Heroin is awfully cheap these days. The foreign cars get more expensive every year, but the price of heroin always goes down.
Every time I see a new monument go up, I think of Rome and her statues of triumphant emperors, carved with words in a language no one speaks, victors over countries that don't exist anymore.
They built a hell of a monument, those Romans. They carved them out of marble, too, meant to last the ages. Didn't matter.
I'll see you when they dedicate the new Vietnam Memorial. And they'll release doves, who will wheel away into the sky, not sure of why they were in the cage, and not sure about why they've been released.
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. Dion's latest book, "The Land of Trumpin'," is a monument to another cheap memorial. It is available in paperback from Amazon.com, and for Nook, Kindle, iBooks and GooglePlay.