I spent a half day yesterday trying to write something suitable for Memorial Day, but like randomly bouncing balls in a pinball machine, wildly colliding emotions doomed the effort. I let the reflective part of the day go and embraced cooking ribs and planting herbs as relief. I’m not going to write what I couldn’t yesterday; I’m sharing some of the things that caused the short in the writing process.
To begin with, I watched a short video about a young mother and her two daughters preparing “care” packages for the husband and father in Iraq, and then later footage when she receives word of his death, and the continuing grief in the family. I was reminded of the grief for which there is no consolation for so many families because of this war. Then, I read an article in our local newspaper about all of the young men and women from central Oregon who have been killed in the war this past year. I thought not only the grief of families for dead loved ones but for the many living but who will never be the same.
I do not want to add any measure of grief to what they already are experiencing, but neither do I want the holiday to pass without registering my protest that these dead and living are victims of policies that have little or nothing to do with freedom, Iraqi or ours in this country. I cannot believe that the brave and patriotic faces these families put on tell the whole stories of their doubts about the validity of their loved one’s sacrifices.
David Blight, history professor at Yale, wrote of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address:
The living were compelled to find meaning in the dead, and, as in most wars, the dead have a hold on the living… Lincoln referred to the “brave men” who had “consecrated” the ground of that battlefield “above” the power of his words to “add or detract”. Implied in that speech was the notion that the difference between the living and the dead was that the living were compelled to remember, and from the stuff of memory, create a new nation from the wreckage of the old.Blight goes on in his book to demonstrate how a day of celebration of former slaves, Union soldiers, and abolitionists in Charleston, South Carolina was turned into an innocuous Memorial Day in which the reason for the Civil War was forgotten:
It became a tribute to the dead on both sides, and to the reunion of the North and the South after the war. This new holiday was more inclusive, and more useful to a forward-looking nation eager to put its differences behind it. But something important was lost: the recognition that the Civil War had been a moral battle to free black Americans from slavery.Looking back at Blight’s work, which was written in 2001 before 9/11, Adam Cohen reflected on that change in an article titled, “What the History of Memorial Day Teaches about Honoring War Dead”:
War commemorations, he makes clear, do not just pay tribute to the war dead. They also reflect a nation’s understanding of particular wars, and they are edited for political reasons. Memorial Day is a day not only of remembering, but also of selective forgetting — a point to keep in mind as the Iraq war moves uneasily into the history books…In some ways, that is what Meteor Blades did in his Memorial Day piece on DailyKos:
When Memorial Day began, the war dead were placed front and center. The holiday’s original name, Decoration Day, came from the day’s main activity: leaving flowers at cemeteries. Today, though, we are fighting a war in which great pains have been taken to hide the nearly 3,500 Americans who have died from sight. The Defense Department has banned the photographing of returning caskets, and the president refuses to attend soldiers’ funerals.
Memorial Day also began with the conviction that to properly honor the war dead, it is necessary to honestly contemplate the cause for which they fought. Today we are fighting a war sold on false pretenses, and the Bush administration stands by its false stories. Memorial Day’s history, and its devolution, demonstrates that the instinct to prettify war and create myths about it is hardly new.
But as the founders of the original Memorial Day understood, the only honorable way to remember those who have lost their lives is to commemorate them out in the open, and to insist on a true account.
More than ever in this sixth year of the war in Iraq, it will be impossible to forget that also in several previous wars - the Mexican War, the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American-Philippines War, the Vietnam War – dead soldiers were put in the ground by criminals inhabiting the highest levels of the U.S. government. Politicians unworthy to touch the Stars and Stripes, much less wrap themselves in it to bolster their claim of having the best interests of America’s freedom and security at heart.OPOL (One Pissed Off Liberal) took the protest to another level:
With all due respect to those who serve in the armed forces, we owe it to them to ask hard questions about the sacrifices demanded of them and their families.Wow! This man from a military family really is OPOL. He concludes his insightful piece with these lines:
It’s fine and good and perfectly appropriate for us to honor our dead, but if we allow ourselves to be whipped into a patriotic frenzy every time some yahoo waves a flag it can serve to legitimize the military enterprise – and that is the point I wish to make. The military enterprise is not legitimate.
If we are to survive as a species we must change. We must dismantle/repurpose the Military Industrial Complex to serve the causes of peace and planetary survival.These are the things I thought about on Memorial Day. I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts.
I hope we can begin to see militarism as the enemy...and NOT as our salvation.
Unless we are very lucky and ultimately successful, America’s sick military fetish will bring all of humanity to an inglorious end.