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Memorial Day Thoughts

Contrarian that I am, you shouldn’t expect me to glorify Memorial Day – I’ll leave that to others. Yes, I am a veteran (U.S. Navy, 1968-1972), but I don’t want anyone’s thanks, because I joined (after losing a college deferment by dropping out) to avoid being drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam. I served on board the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) as an aviation electrician’s mate third class in VF-213, an F-4 fighter jet squadron. The U.S.S. Kitty Hawk supported our troops in Vietnam from its position on Yankee Station, in the Gulf of Tonkin. Lost in all the glib words spoken about this day is the fact that not many of those drafted into “service” during the Vietnam War would have joined if they had had a choice in the matter. After the draft was ended in 1973, those who volunteered often did so because their economic options were limited and a four or six year enlistment in the military offered training and some funding for college, though not nearly as much as was offered to returning veterans after World War II. I’ve not done any research on the matter, but it would be interesting to know what percentage of enlistees, in any year, joined for economic reasons rather than a desire to serve their country, as is so often claimed by those who glorify Memorial Day. I suspect that the figure would be a lot higher than many would suspect.

It would be nice if, for once, on Memorial Day, we gave some thought to the militaristic madness that has gripped this country for the last 60 years. Instead, all we hear are speeches that glorify war, mindlessly support our troops and extoll the moral superiority of this country.

This is an excerpt from an essay by Steve Lendman that he posted on his blog on January 12, 2007. I don’t expect anyone to comment on this post, for it is forbidden in this country to challenge the idea that the casualties of our wars are for an honorable cause, isn’t it?

Memorial and Veterans Days

by Steve Lendman

Because both days are related, they’re discussed under a single heading. The first, Memorial Day, is commemorated on the last Monday in May and was first observed in 1866 and called Decoration Day beginning in 1868. Usage of Memorial Day wasn’t common until after WW II and wasn’t the holiday’s official name until federal law called it that in 1967. The day is an occasion to honor the nation’s men and women who died in military service to the country. More on that in a moment.

Veterans Day was formerly known as Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day in Europe, that originally commemorated the end of WW I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year in 1918 when the guns went silent, or were supposed to. It was first observed in the US in 1919 and made a legal holiday here in 1938. In June, 1954, Congress enacted legislation changing the holiday’s name to Veterans Day.

Both holidays would never be needed in a nation dedicated to peace, but one committed to perpetual war for an unattainable peace dishonors its youth in life and disingenuously honors those who died in imperial wars for conquest and plunder. Nations waging wars only guarantee more of them in an endless cycle of violence, militarism, brutality and shameless inhumanity to those made to suffer and die in combat theaters – so the privileged who get to stay home can profit from them.

People don’t want wars but can always be made to support and fight in them using the proven method of choice that always works – fear based on shameless lies and deception by governments with hidden motives unrevealed because who would go along with them if they did? Only by deceitfully scaring people enough to believe the nation’s security is threatened will they support foreign wars and fight in them thinking they have no other choice. When traumatized enough, those wanting peace can be convinced to go along with the most outlandish schemes planned that if ever explained would be condemned and never supported.

If people only knew the wisdom of iconic investigative journalist I.F. Stone, they’d know in times of war, or events leading to it, truth is the first casualty. He told young journalists that “All governments are run by liars and nothing they say (about anything) should be believed, and on another occasion shortened it by saying, “All governments lie.”

Serial lying is the defining characteristic of the Bush administration, but all others earlier were duplicitous as well including the one led by the Republican former president just passed whose short two and a half year tenure only gave him less time to commit fewer crimes of war and against humanity. He managed to do his best with the time he had, yet we honor him instead of exposing his shameless acts deserving condemnation.

It’s almost like it’s preordained and in the country’s DNA that this nation is a warrior state sending its expendable youth to fight and die in foreign wars but not for national security, honor or the rights of free people anywhere. It’s always for wealth and power that conquest and plunder afford the privileged who get to stay home safe and in comfort letting others do their dying and then shamelessly hold a day of remembrance honoring them for their sacrifice. This is the long tradition of this nation that since inception in 1776 has been at war with one or more adversaries every year without exception from that time to the present.

These two federal holidays warrant special condemnation. They represent a galling legacy of endless wars and false patriotic glorification of them including the so-called “good” one about which there was nothing good at all. Choosing days to honor the dead who sacrificed everything is a sacrilege and failure to note they died in vain on the altar of power and privilege for the few. Their deaths assure an unending cycle of violence and killing with legions of nameless, faceless grave sites ahead known only to those experiencing unconscionable loss.

These commemorative days stand above the others as symbols of this nation’s depravity and ultimate crime against humanity and wasted lives it has taken. They ignore what Lincoln hoped for at Gettysburg in November, 1863 when he said “we here resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” He knew the horror of war and understood that they must end. He also feared they would not and had to reflect that future wars would take their leaders to new battlefields in an endless cycle of death and destruction wars always guarantee.

Future commemorations of past wars should chart a new course – a vow pledging they’ll end, and this nation resolves never again. Remembrance should then be an act of contrition and path to redemption, honoring the living, and taking a sacred oath of non-violence promising to stand by it for all time. It should be a solemn dedication to equity and social justice for all in a state of peace renouncing wars and the shameless holidays in their honor. One day there will be no more wars because no one will go fight in them. When it comes, days of memorial and honoring veterans will end replaced by a Peace Day honoring the living and sacredness of life so those past dead finally won’t have died in vain. Pray it comes soon.

3 Comments on “Memorial Day Thoughts”

  1. #1 Debi Kelly Van Cleave
    on May 25th, 2009 at 12:05 am

    Jeff, when you’re done taking your break, because it’s going to make you feel burnt out again, you should read “The Deserter’s Tale,” by Joshua Key. It’s a true story of this poor kid from Oklahoma who joined the army and went to Iraq because it was the only way he could support his family and because that’s what he was brainwashed to do. He saw and participated in terrible things going on over there (assaults, rapes and murders of innocent civilians, families just like yours and mine). Eventually his conscience kicked in and he deserted. He’s still on the run with his wife and kids as far as I know.

    I didn’t want to read this book. I’m a girl–I’m not interested in war stuff. But I picked it up to be polite and even though the writing is not sophisticated, the story was intense and I couldn’t put it down. I read it in three days. I’ll send it to you if you want.


  2. #2 Jeff
    on May 25th, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Debi, I didn’t know of this book. I did some poking around on the ‘net and read a couple of reviews. I don’t particularly care to read the book – I certainly know how the military works as far as brainwashing goes. But you have to understand that military training has to be that way, because killing fellow human beings is not an act that 98% of the population willingly does. To kill, the other has to be demonized and military training does a very good job of that. Sometimes, violence is necessary, but I would say that is pretty rare. What needs to be asked is why is violence always seen as the answer in the “land of the free and the home of the brave”? I object to the glorification of violence and war that Memorial Day stands for. I haven’t done any research on Decoration Day (as the day was originally known), but I wonder if the glorification of war was always part of the “celebration” of the day. I wish for the day when people stop and reflect on the nature and need for state-sponsored violence on Memorial Day. That would make it worthwhile to have such a holy-day.

  3. #3 colleen
    on Jun 5th, 2009 at 11:48 am

    As a vet what you say carries even more weight. It is such a trick to grieve our vets and honor them at the same time without honoring war itself. Interestingly, the more we explore the stories of WWII vets in this area, the more we’re learning that most of them did not want to go and some did just what you did. I respected them more upon hearing that. It seemed more normal and human as compared to gung-ho patriotism.

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