On this Memorial Day we remember American war dead. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. The willingness of citizens to defend the nation is the ultimate gift of an individual to the larger society.
In honoring these war dead, we also hear that they died for our freedom. History tells us stories of sacrifice and hardship in wars that created the American polity that protects our civil liberties. During my lifetime, however, few American soldiers died fighting for freedom. I came to that understanding when I fought in Vietnam. I did not defend America’s freedom then. I defended a corrupt government that served small elite waxing fat at the expense of workers and peasants while playing the anti-Communist card in Cold War sideshow. The ultimate victory of America’s opponents in that war did nothing to diminish our freedoms.
Nor have I seen in the years since that American service men and women have died protecting America’s freedoms. Grenada? Panama? The Gulf War? Iraq? Afghanistan? None of these wars have anything to do with our freedoms beyond the fact that our leaders claim that mantle as justification for putting our forces in harm’s way. More often, in the words of General Smedley Butler, “war is a racket”
that protects wealth and capital. Our military protects profits, not citizen freedoms.
Our nation tells us that these honored dead fought to protect America’s freedom. Yet what good has their sacrifice done for America? We are no safer than we were on September 10, 2001 and the freedoms that these men and women supposedly died to protect have been systematically eroded by two successive administrations. What is true: these honored dead served their nation. What is also true is that their nation dishonored their sacrifice in service of dubious policies. (see racket, above.)
I acknowledge and honor their heroism and sacrifice. But I cannot ignore the reality that such heroism and sacrifice means nothing to the long-term security, prosperity or liberty of the United States and its citizens. The foe that we fought in Vietnam did not threaten our freedom. The foe we now fight now in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan does not threaten our freedom. International terrorists do not threaten our freedom. What threat terrorists do pose is far more effectively countered through effective intelligence and international cooperation than by military occupation and intervention.
National holidays for remembering war dead are always difficult for me. Along with honor and sacrifice I see the lies that have accompanied that sacrifice. As honored as I am that these men and women died on my behalf, I am also shamed that my country squandered their patriotism and sacrifice.
I wish it were not so.
Labels: memorial, national insecurity