What would our war dead think of the freedom for which they died?

A tour of America today might leave the warriors wanting a drink

This weekend's Memorial Day proclamation from President Barack Obama was like so many other gracious sentiments commemorating America's war dead.

And like all the others, whether delivered by a president or by some junior councilman from the smallest burg, it mentioned the magic word:

Freedom.

"From Concord to the Korengal, generations of brave warriors have fought for freedom across sand and snow, over mud and mountains, into lonely deserts and through crowded streets," Mr. Obama's proclamation reads.

"Today, we pay tribute to those patriots who never came back — who fought for a home to which they never returned, and died for a country whose gratitude they will always have."

Politicians love using the word "freedom." Unfortunately, our war dead can't hear them.

But haven't you ever wondered what they would say if they could return to this modern America, this 2013 America, and see what we've done with the freedom they purchased with their lives?

They'd certainly look strange in their uniforms, the Revolutionary War heroes with the Civil War fighters touring the country with those from World War I and every war since. And America would seem equally strange to them.

Obviously, the Returned would need a federal guide.

"These are our surveillance cameras," Federal Guide would say, pointing to the cameras on street light poles, telling them about the cameras on bridges, on the sides of buildings, at airports, buses and trains, on public streets and quiet corners. Cameras at tollbooths. Cameras everywhere.

"The cameras watch you wherever you go?" a soldier from Valley Forge might ask, leaning on his musket, after an Iraq veteran explained how cameras work.

"And these here cameras protect your freedom?"

"Yes, and please put out that pipe," says Federal Guide. "This is a public park. There is no smoking here. The cameras can see you. But yes, the cameras protect us and make us feel secure."

Federal Guide would explain about the computers that can track license plates of cars and facial-recognition software that allows pedestrians to be followed for miles. And up in the sky, he'd tell them about cameras on satellites and drones.

The Returned would also learn all about our cellphones, those wonderful squares of plastic and metal that never leave our sides, gizmos that can be used to play video, read the news and perform many other tasks. The Returned would marvel that we can call our friends, and even send messages of our most private thoughts to people we've never met.

Some might be shocked to learn that some of our leaders even send photos of their private parts to people they don't know.

"Anthony Weiner is running for mayor of New York after doing that?" a World War II Marine might ask. "You've got to be kidding."

"No," says Federal Guide. "This is America. We're free. And cellphones have made everyone free to communicate with everyone else."

He'd explain about data mining, and how the phone companies sell personal information to other companies, following customers into stores, ballparks, anywhere. And, how these patterns allow the companies to tailor marketing strategies to free Americans.

Wherever free Americans go, their phones go with them, and this is how they may be tracked.

"They can follow you with these phones?" asks a sailor who served with John Paul Jones. "Why don't you call them dog collars instead?"

They'd be amazed at those new large-screen, high-definition televisions, with movies and sports, including baseball.

"That's baseball?" says a Civil War veteran. "That's what it is?"

And they'd learn about patents pending for devices like one that allows the TVs to listen to what we free Americans say in our homes, whether we argue with our spouses, or play with our dogs. And then the TV will send targeted ads to the home, ads for marriage counseling, ads for Prozac, ads for dog food.

Other gizmos allow the TV to recognize faces, and determine how many people are watching. And other technology stores our electronic correspondence, and searches for hints of bad tidings, in the name of keeping us free, says the guide.

"I don't feel so good," says a WWI infantryman on the tour. "I feel queasy in the stomach."

"OK, then," says Federal Guide. "Let's watch the news."

One story shows Republicans who've gorged on political contributions from defense contractors pushing for war after war in the name of freedom. ... Another explains the Democratic Obama administration scandal of the IRS targeting conservative and tea party political groups before the presidential election.

Yet another report focuses on Benghazi, and the former secretary of state defending herself, and the four Americans left to die there, including the two former Navy SEALs who fought for hours on the rooftops, waiting for help that never came.

The Returned watch, say nothing, then stare at their boots.

"There's still so much for you to see," says Federal Guide. "Let's get to it."

But the Returned say they're tired of the freedom tour.

"Look, uh, the guys just want some barbecue before we go back home," says the sailor. "I haven't eaten anything since I was on the Bonhomme Richard, and I could sure use a drink."

Visibly upset, Federal Guide tries to stop them. "There's so much to do," he whines, biting his lip.

"No thanks, we're done," says the sailor. "I mean, like she said on TV, what difference, at this point, does it make?"

— You know that Memorial Day isn't about barbecue. But it does mark the beginning of the grilling season. So if you're looking for some of my favorite recipes and videos, you'll find them on my Facebook page at facebook.com/JohnKassTribune.

jskass@tribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass

CHICAGO

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