Memorial Day has become our most conflicted holiday. I’m bothered by it, and I know I am not the only one.
See, while our history books have canonized the justness of the wars fought in the past (some rightly, and some through a process of complex moral gymnastics), we now live in an age of patently unjust military aggression. Vietnam was an American atrocity and it was right out in the open for all to see. Iraq I, our first video game war, was entertaining to watch, but there was no moral basis for our action. Come on, how stupid must we be to tolerate even a second of nonsense about those freedom-loving Kuwaitis? Afghanistan seemed an imperative at the time, but now we’re facing the prospect of exiting without really accomplishing much at all. And Iraq II was out and out illegal, to the extent that several senior US officials (including our president and vice president) should have stood trial for war crimes.
Certainly we have fought just wars. World War II is the most obvious case – the only questions there surround whether or not we should have engaged with Europe sooner and, of course, was there justification for the atomic bombs we dropped on civilian populations in Japan?
In any event, today we remember those who have died in service to our nation, and we should do so with the utmost reverence. Still, this seems as good a moment as any to step back and ponder the fact that we are honoring equally those who gave their lives in noble and, through no fault of their own, ignoble conflicts. If you’re an ethical citizen, a moral human being, a thinking, critically adept American, one whose love for your country does not blind you to the political realities of how it sometimes conducts business, then Memorial Day and Veterans Day have to trouble you. Yes, you absolutely respect the sacrifice made by those who gave their lives in military service, but you can’t help wishing that they’d never had to.
We have made gods of those who died on Omaha Beach, at Midway, on the fields of Gettysburg and Antietam, of the brave patriots whose blood watered the tree of liberty, and so on. We have been less kind to those who never came home from Vietnam (or whose bodies came home with their minds utterly destroyed). If we didn’t have a Memorial Day already, who thinks we’d create one today to honor the fallen from that war, from Iraq and Afghanistan?
Today I honor our war dead, but I’m mad as hell that our leaders, corrupt and sociopathic as they so often are, have killed so many without cause. I’m enraged that some of these deaths are regarded by our society as less worthy of honor than others. And I’m livid with the certain knowledge that plans are afoot, even as we celebrate this holiday, to send more young men and women off to die in dishonorable, even criminal actions.
Perhaps we will keep this in mind as we enter election season, which will be rife with scoundrels wrapped in flags, scoundrels whose idea of honor and patriotism is sending other people’s children off to die in service to corrupt financial or bigoted religious agendas.