Monday, May 29, 2017

Progressive Perspectives on Memorial Day

Memorial Day began as a consecration of war dead following our Civil War by recently freed people honoring their comrades who fought and died with the Union Army for their freedom. Its purpose was one of mourning, not celebration; it is only in this generation that it has become – in the mass culture of the United States of America, at least – a festival for commerce and pageantry, far removed from any context or awareness of battlefield casualties. Out of respect for those who died and for those whose lives were forever changed by war, we must not allow this to happen. We don’t need bumper stickers or parades; we need solidarity.

It is not the first time that capitalist society has hijacked the intended meaning of a holiday; we see the same kind of ahistorical interpretation of Mother’s Day, which was itself a product of 19th century anti-war movements. As veterans of America’s adventurism abroad, we reject the notion that Memorial Day should avoid the uncomfortable question of this nation’s longest-running conflict.

Since 2001, the United States has waged ceaseless, objectiveless warfare in the Middle East, Central Asia, North and East Africa, and the islands of Southeast Asia. We’ve been at war in Afghanistan for nearly seventeen years. A generation has been born into this unending conflict, and we will soon have service members who have never known a time when this country was not at war. As of today, we have lost 6,915 service members directly in battle or in support of hostilities abroad, the overwhelming majority of whom were working class. We have lost many more to suicide and the after-effects of military service, at an average rate of 20 veteran suicides each day. We have contributed to the deaths of over a million people worldwide by bombing their homes, destroying their livelihoods, and instigating a near-apocalyptic refugee crisis in the Middle East. We have spent more than $5 trillion at the expense of all else while we’ve allowed our nation’s infrastructure and schools to rot away. With no real tangible objective, the endless campaign to support American Exceptionalism abroad resembles a truck marooned in sand, spinning its wheels and churning, getting nowhere while digging itself into an even deeper hole.

The Democratic Socialists of America Veterans’ Working Group
Excerpted from "A Memorial Day Observance:
The Destruction That Is War
Democratic Socialists of America
May 29, 2017

Displaying flags and placing flowers on the graves of military members might be two of the more traditional Memorial Day methods of showing tribute to those who have fallen in battle; but perhaps a new tradition must be initiated – one that would constitute the highest form of respect. It’s time, beginning with Memorial Day 2017, to prevent any further unnecessary deaths by exposing the lies of the American empire in corporate and defense profiteering as the now-exclusive driving factors behind its push for war on all fronts.

Before jumping to assert this would somehow disrespect those who have died, understand it is precisely because the lives of U.S. troops are precious that we should not allow anyone to die for less than the most noble cause. And the imperialist goals of a crumbling empire simply do not embody a laudable reason to put lives on the line. Exposing mendacious pro-war propaganda for what it is could swiftly change the minds of future soldiers considering devoting their lives to military service.

Plenty of past examples of unabashed pro-war propaganda can be found in narratives invariably regurgitated by mainstream media acting as the government’s cheerleader.

– Claire Bernish
Excerpted from "Here’s How to Honor the Fallen this Memorial Day
by Exposing the Warmongering Lies of Government
The Free Thought Project
May 29, 2017

The United States is the most militarized and jingoistic nation on earth. Its foreign policy is guided by imperialist militarism, neoliberal capitalism and racial xenophobia. For more than sixteen years now, three presidential administrations have carried out a so-called “War on Terror” (GWOT), a perpetual state of war that is waged globally, under the depraved reasoning that “the world is a battlefield,” to quote investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill. As demonstrated by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the GWOT is conducted through conventional warfare. More often, however, it is executed through covert or “dirty” wars, against groups and individuals in many other nations.

The U.S. has the financial and logistical capacity to wage these illegal wars. Its bloated military budget is larger than the next seven countries combined. It is by far the largest operator of military installations abroad, maintaining nearly 800 bases in around 70 countries. The ever-growing military-industrial complex, which President Eisenhower warned about in his farewell address, permeates every facet of our society – from an economy largely dependent on the war industry, to military recruiting in our public schools, to police militarization. This toxic culture of war is underscored on different national holidays, particularly Memorial Day.

Memorial Day – a day originating in 1868 (Decoration Day), on which the grave sites of the Civil War dead were decorated with flowers – has morphed into a day that conflates the memorialization of killed soldiers with the glorification of war. The perennial flag-waving, ultra-nationalist speeches, garish street parades and hyper-consumerism of Memorial Day do not honor these soldiers. What might, however, is working to prevent future war and nurture peace – honoring their memory by not sending more men and women into harm’s way and to kill and maim in wars based on lies. To have any chance at being effective, however, this work must include efforts aimed at increasing public awareness about the many causes and costs of war.

The fervent pomp of Arlington [National Cemetery] to me always exudes desperation, as though we’re trying to suppress any acknowledgement that war’s the silliest thing people do. We sort ourselves into teams based on imaginary lines, dress up in costumes, pledge allegiance to pieces of cloth, and then mercilessly slaughter total strangers.

This reality – that waging war is both extremely unpleasant and fundamentally ridiculous, yet we keep doing it – indicates that it must serve some important purpose.

And all the history books I’ve ever read and all the history I’ve lived through suggests what that is: Wars are less about conflicts between societies than about conflicts within societies. Every country has a militaristic right-wing, and nothing helps that right-wing triumph over their domestic enemies more than a state of war. And just like a pharmaceutical company that doesn’t want to cure diseases when managing them is so profitable, their top priority is never bringing the war to an end, but maintaining and expanding their power within the country.

Amazing enough, Donald Trump recently told the National Governors Association exactly this, even if neither he nor they understood what he was saying. “We never win. And we don’t fight to win,” Trump declared. “$6 trillion we’ve spent in the Middle East … and we’re nowhere.”

But obviously Trump himself is somewhere: He’s in the White House. And lots of that $6 trillion is somewhere too, in the bank accounts of defense contractors. So if you understand who the real “we” are, we in fact have won the war on terror and are still winning. U.S. politics have been shoved hard to the right, making Trump possible, and since 2001 the value of Lockheed Martin stock has sextupled. The real we likewise have no interest in “fighting to win” in the sense Trump means — because that would require raising taxes on billionaires and drafting their children out of Stanford and Yale to go die in the sand, something that would quickly lead to the defeat of any president who tried it.

This perspective on the purpose of war was directly expressed by George W. Bush and his circle before he ever became president. Texas journalist and Bush family friend Mickey Herskowitz was hired to write a Bush biography for the 2000 campaign, and spent hours interviewing him. Herskowitz later said that Bush was already thinking about attacking Iraq — because, Bush said, “One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander in chief.” According to Herskowitz, people around Bush, including Dick Cheney, hoped to “start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade.” Why? Because, Bush told Herskowitz, that would give him “political capital” that he could use to “get everything passed that I want to get passed.”

In other words, the actual country of Iraq had little to do with the Iraq War. Its main purpose wasn’t beating Saddam Hussein, it was beating Americans who wanted to stop Bush from privatizing Social Security.

. . . What’s most surprising isn’t that politicians start wars to consolidate their own power, but that the people don’t always simply assume that leaders choose war for that reason. Of course, the main calculation for politicians when making decisions is whether or not those decisions will help tighten their grip on the levers of society. From prime ministers to dictators, anyone who doesn’t think about that first and foremost will be, evolutionarily speaking, selected against, and quickly find themselves outside the palace walls.

That’s why we need a Memorial Day, I believe, and so does seemingly every country on earth. At Arlington and at all the world’s solemn military cemeteries you can witness the endless ocean of young men and women who have been shot, gassed, incinerated, ripped limb from limb, shredded, driven to suicide. In the best of situations they died because of talented warmongers in other countries. In the worst it’s because we ourselves were so weak that we handed over power to killers who were delighted to see us die if it gave them a three week bump in their Gallup approval rating. We have to draw a veil of consecration across all of it, because looking at it directly is unbearable.

– Jon Schwarz
Excerpted from "We Need Memorial Day to Obscure
the Unbearable Truth About War
The Intercept
May 29, 2017

Related Off-site Links:
Combatting Years of Wartime Trauma with a Different Sort of Warrior Pose – Tara Bahrampour (The New York Times, May 27, 2017).
America's Military Is Built to Help Defense Contractors, Not Troops – Max Brooks and Lionel Beehner (The Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2017).
Washington Post Can't Stop Running Op-Eds by Lobbyists Pushing Their Clients' Weapons – Adam Johnson (AlterNet, May 26, 2017).
Remembering the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937 – Ahmed White (Jacobin, May 29, 2017).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The War Racket
Saying "No" to Endless U.S. Wars
Progressive Perspectives on U.S. Military Intervention in Syria
Vigiling Against Weaponized Drones
Walking Against Weapons
General Strike for Peace
The Tenth Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq
Remembering September 11 and Its Aftermath
When Terror Is the Foil
Let’s Also Honor the “Expendables”
A Letter to "Dear Abby" re. Responding to 9/11
John Pilger on Resisting Empire

No comments: