On Vegas Illusions, Revelations and Parades: Essay for March 10, 2012

It is said, “Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” But I don’t like to follow the rules. I spent some time in Las Vegas recently and observed a lot of interesting things that I’d like to share.

First of all, nothing about Las Vegas is real. That is what my taxi driver said and it is true. The hotels are themed from exotic places around the world: Paris; New York; Rome; Venice. Neither are the restaurants native. They are transplants of famous eateries from those same cities. Fabulous celebrity chefs have cut and pasted their originals in luxury hotels: Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay and Mario Batali. It would seem that if you can make it on The Food Network you can make it in Las Vegas.

When viewed through the lens of Las Vegas, it was difficult to discern that there exists a poor economy. In fact, lack of discernment was prevalent on many levels. I saw many different types of people: gamblers, of course; revelers of all sorts; bachelor parties; bachelorette parties; a few weddings. There were some children but not many. The city hardly slows down as the staged entertainment merely ebbs as the evening turns into the wee hours.

Then there is the other side of the city, the absolute beauty of natural surroundings that begged to be hiked and climbed and scaled. A starker and more constantly changing landscape I cannot remember. Ever the outdoorsman, I brought my hiking gear with me and set out on several treks. I was taken by the unforgiving terrain; the fickle weather; the swings in temperature; the arid ground; the lack of life giving water. It reminded me of the landscapes I’ve seen flying over Afghanistan or through newsreels more up close and personal.

It brought to mind the ground that our troops trod upon every day. The burden they carry on their backs is made heavier by the thin air at altitude. The dryness in the back of their throats is made more so by the thirsty wind. Heaving and hauling through landscapes better suited to mountain goats and indigenous peoples, the sweat momentarily clings to the brow then quickly evaporates. Water brings only temporary satisfaction. The ordinary American citizen cannot live the experience our troops face every day.

I left the hillsides for the day and headed off to one of those famous Las Vegas buffets to fill the pit in my belly. Cuisines from around the world lined the walls: Asian, Italian and Barbeque. That is when it struck me. There was something I had not seen in Vegas; something not yet imported. I had not seen any soldiers in uniform. Perhaps there were some in the crowds but they were not obvious.

Las Vegas has not yet created any warzone fantasy world for vacationers to visit. If they did, it might resemble the hillsides in Red Rock Canyon where I climbed. They would have to recreate the dust, the dry, the rocky and the extremes of temperature to capture even a moment of what it must be like for our troops in Afghanistan. And even if they could, who would be enticed to participate? After all, it is not nearly as much fun as watching make believe swashbuckling pirates in front of the Treasure Island Casino.

Perhaps we can settle on something a little more traditional. How about a parade?

The length of the war in Iraq is second in duration to the war in Afghanistan. They are twice as long as our World Wars. Millions of Americans have served time in theatre. Together, the wars have taken the lives of almost 6500 of our youth. More than 14,000 have been wounded. The time has come to recognize the many sacrifices that these soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have made in order to protect our way of life. They have done what we have asked of them and then some. They deserve not only a public display of our affection and admiration, they deserve a break. They deserve to come home to a job.

It is truly ironic that we laid our finest young Americans upon the alter of sacrifice so that the wretched of the most uncivil of societies may endure. Our forces in Afghanistan and Iraq were not liberating Paris from the Nazis; they were tracking down the Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists and sympathizers who wrought havoc upon our nation and the civilized world. And they did so amid conditions that few of us can imagine. They repay us with resentment.

Spring is nearly upon us. The season of parades draws neigh. It is time for a homecoming and a celebration. Bring on the music and the bands, I say. And bring on the job training that will permit these talented and motivated veterans to reenter the workforce with the dignity they so ardently deserve.
What happened in Vegas should stay in Vegas to remain forever forgotten; what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan should never be forgotten.

Press on.

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