How can we best honor our fallen heroes on Memorial Day?

Honoring those who died in service doesn’t mean forgiving those who put them in harm’s way.

Today America honors its war dead, those who gave their lives in the service of freedom – not only ours, but in many cases they died to save innocent people in far-flung corners of the globe. This isn’t idle rhetoric, either. Ponder what the world might have been like had the Allies lost World War II.

Unfortunately, in recent years I have grown more cynical about “freedom” and those who died for it. These days I hear someone prattling on about “supporting the troops” who are out there “risking their lives to defend our freedom” and I want to backhand them. What bullshit. What complete and utter bullshit. Yes, American servicemen and women place themselves in harm’s way every day and they’re brave to do it and sometimes they pay with their lives. But it’s been a very long time since any member of the US armed forces died protecting our freedom.

I’m not going to apologize for stating the obvious. These days our servicepeople die safeguarding the economic interests of our wealthiest citizens. They die because our “leaders” have scores to settle. They die because of ignorance and xenophobia tinged with religious prejudice. They die because those calling the shots have grand visions of pax Americana. And they die because we have spent decades, generations even, creating enemies for them to subdue.

The United States has been a nation for 239 years. We have been at war for 222 of them. And it has been at least 25 years since any nation on the face of the Earth could be said, by even the wildest reckoning, to pose a threat to our freedom.

In other words, our military isn’t about freedom. It isn’t about defending American soil and safeguarding the Republic. It’s about Empire. We are perhaps the most warmongering global menace in the history of the world.

And the biggest threat to our freedom isn’t in Moscow, or Beijing, or Pyongyang, or Tehran, and it certainly isn’t in some cave on the Pakistani border. No doubt there are bad people in some of those places and there is the possibility that some of them might have the capability to deal us a blow, but such an attack would be symbolic at most. In the wake of 9/11, how seriously was our freedom really threatened? The truth is that Osama bin Laden couldn’t have dreamed of doing as much damage to our freedom as we suffered at the hands of our own government.

No, today the biggest threat to our freedom is the cadre of well-dressed warlords in Washington, D.C. It’s the people who conceived and implemented the Patriot Act and empowered the NSA. It’s an out-of-control, belligerent, over-militarized police culture.

Hopefully by now you have gotten the sense that I’m upset about all this. The truth is that throughout our history millions of men and women have died in legitimate service to American freedom. These days, though, we sacrifice our military on the altar of our own ignorance, arrogance and greed. In doing so we do them a great disservice. We betray them every day, whether they live or die, and we make a mockery of their commitment, their courage and their patriotism.

I hate that our cynical, corrupt power elite have behaved in ways that have instilled in me a reflexive dismissal of genuine attempts to honor our heroes. Every time some lackwit media pundit who slept through history class puffs up and starts yammering about freedom I have to choke down the bile, and that’s wrong. I have to step back, take a breath and remind myself that there are fallen heroes, and that it’s hardly the fault of those who gave their lives in any of our nation’s unjust adventures abroad. My hatred isn’t for them, it’s for the evil men and women who put them in harm’s way for no justifiable reason.

So today let’s remember our brave war dead. And as we do so, let’s contemplate how we might best honor their memories – by removing the warlords from power and calling them to account for their crimes.

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