Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day - How to Truly Honor the Fallen

Arlington National Cemetery
On Memorial Day we honor those who died defending our country in the nation's military.  As Wikipedia notes the holiday arose as follows:
Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces. The holiday, which is observed every year on the last Monday of May, originated as Decoration Day after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans — established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.
It is truly right that we remember those who gave their lives for defending the country.  However, it is also right that we remember that some gave their lives needlessly in wars that should never have occurred but for politicians and generals who sought political gain and/or to satiate their egos or to justification for military spending.  The most recent of such wars being, of course, the Iraq War fiasco.  A war that was based on deliberate lies and misinformation by the Bush/Cheney regime.  A war that Republicans for the most part refuse to admit was a terrible mistake that threw away thousands of American lives.

The take away for all of this?  That if we truly honor or war dead, we should make we do not allow sleazy,dishonest politicians, the vast majority of which have no military experience and have no family members in the military to  send more of our military to their deaths needlessly.  As a piece in the New York Times notes, the current members of Congress have little connection to the military despite their swaggering and bellicose blather:
As for the current Congress, as the “PBS NewsHour” noted in November: “In all, 97 members of the next session of Congress will have served in the U.S. military. That means less than 18 percent of the new congressional delegation served in the armed forces. 

[Only] 0.4 percent of the American population is active military personnel.”

Furthermore, we are moving toward a society in which the rich and powerful avoid service while those of fewer means sometimes see it as one of only a few options.
We don't need more lives wasted.  Yet the current GOP as always stands ready to rush to war.  A piece in Salon stresses the need to avoid such efforts.  Here are highlights:

The American empire is dying, and the economy is declining. Dysfunction and disrepair define the sick status and mechanized failure of educational, medical and governmental institutions. One in 10 Americans take antidepressants, unemployment and underemployment soar, poverty blights and obliterates inner cities and rural villages alike, 45 million adults are functionally illiterate, and anyone with all but the lowest lucidity can see clearly that the political system operates as bribery for the highest bidder. Given that the top 1 percent own 40 percent of the wealth, it is likely that the extortionists who purchase political representation all shop at the same clothing store.

In an America suffering from increasing infirmity, anything that allows for denial of reality and comforts delusions of superiority becomes essential and central to the national identity. The United States military, with its garish parades and idolatrous rituals of uniform and flag consecration, functions as the final and fading echo of its country’s creed: “We are better than the rest.”

The real religion of America is America, but as the old gods of economic triumph, middle-class stability and cultural achievement begin to die, chances for sacrament become slim. Commentators and Senators were aggrieved to learn that one of America’s favorite ceremonial rites was nothing more than the slick synthesis of public relations and propaganda.  The New Jersey Star-Ledger reports that from 2011 to 2014, the Department of Defense paid 14 NFL teams a total $5.4 million, while the National Guard paid 11 teams $5.3 million, to “honor America’s heroes” before football games, and during halftime shows.

[R]arely have I seen any opening or halftime ceremony include veterans in wheelchairs or vets struggling to stand on prosthetic limbs. Living and breathing human beings who come to represent the cold and callous consequences of war are not convenient symbols for American greatness or military adoration. The fact that what many citizens believed was an attempt to celebrate sacrifice was merely moneymaking stagecraft captures the vacuity of “support the troops” slogans. The fact that on the stage those veterans who most need attention and assistance – the wounded, traumatized, homeless – almost never appear captures the hypocrisy.  

[W]ar is now an abstract pride stimulator for Americans. All the troops are heroes, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are fought for freedom. It is fun to watch Chris Kyle kill people. The long-term consequences of death, and destruction of American and Middle Eastern lives are irrelevant. War, like football, is now entertainment, and the entertainment is an anesthetic for the pain of American failure. As the late George Carlin said, “We can’t educate our young people, can’t feed our poor people, can’t take care of our old people, but we can bomb the shit out of your country.”

Joseph Stiglitz calculated the cost of the war in Iraq at $3 trillion. The war in Afghanistan’s bill totals $1 trillion. As the cruelty of American foreign policy makes more veterans with disabilities and psychological trauma, it is medically and morally necessary to continually increase funding for the VA.

Save for Dwight Eisenhower’s too little and too late farewell address in which he warned of the dangers emanating from the “military-industrial complex,” few national officials, Republicans or Democrats, have shown a willingness to confront the cannibalistic Pentagon. So, it proceeds to eat through all the money and resources that might otherwise go to quaint, weird things like schools, hospitals, libraries, trains, buses, and bridges.

If Americans were not so easily frightened by Muslim monsters underneath the bed, and not so eager to celebrate itself with a vision of military supremacy, it might exert enough political pressure on Washington to truly memorialize its dead soldiers by committing itself to not making any new ones. Instead America will settle for bloated and bombastic tribute ceremonies at football games. The Department of Defense is cynical and savvy enough to take advantage of the apathy and ideology of Americans. Otherwise, they would not have offered the NFL millions of dollars.
 I nearly lost a son-in-law in the Afghanistan debacle, so yes, this is very personal to me.  We were lucky that he survived and has healed bodily and mentally.  Far, far too many families were not so lucky.  Meanwhile, think what might have been done with the $3 trillion squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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