When Ozzy Osbourne—in the lifetime before his addled patriarch turn– howled those words 30 years ago, the Vietnam War was at its peak. Some 58,000 Americans died in the conflict and in virtually every case attempts—sometimes heroic, sometimes lasting years—were made to bring their remains home.
That may not happen in Iraq. The Pentagon is drawing up plans to cremate, presumably on or near the battlefield, casualties that result from chemical or bio weapons. The threat of contamination via remains is too great to do anything else, officials say.
They are probably right. But that cannot obscure the huge cultural shift cremation on foreign soil would represent. Ancient tales of fallen heroes carried home on their shields signify the pact struck between warriors and the society at large. That pact is still with us. Though they might be lost in battle, the fallen will be remembered and honored.
If the Bush administration is convinced that a conflict which turns the dead into weapons of the enemy is unavoidable and necessary, it needs to spend a little time and effort explaining to the American people how their traditions of mourning and remembrance are about to change.