The Bodies of Those Who Died in Vain Litter our Landscape
It’s Memorial Day Weekend and I am sick to death of the glorification of war in America.
And I am even sicker of politicians who wrap themselves in the bloody flag and try to rub off some of the stench of death from the bodies of those who have died, mostly in vain for worthless causes, in hopes that taking on some of the odor will cause them to be perceived as admirable patriots themselves.
President George W. Bush, who dodged danger in the Vietnam War by signing up for the Texas National Guard and then ducked even that domestic duty, and Vice President Dick Cheney who used five different excuses to duck military service, morbidly rubbed themselves with that flag for eight long years, even as they sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women into harm’s for their own personal political advantage.
President Barack Obama (who also avoided military service), continued this obscene tradition when, in his weekly PR address to the nation, he urged Americans to “leave a flower” on the grave of a soldier who died in one of America’s wars “so the rest of us might inherit the blessings of this nation.” Obama is also sending young Americans to kill and die halfway around the world in a war that has no purpose other than to demonstrate his political “toughness.” Yet he disingenuously declares that it was “to preserve America and advance the ideals we cherish" that “led patriots in each generation to sacrifice their own lives to secure the life of our nation, from the trenches of World War I to the battles of World War II, from Inchon and Khe Sanh, from Mosul to Marja.”
What utter crap and nonsense!
I’ll grant you that there were noble motivations that led many Americans to die fighting for this country’s independence. The same can be said for those soldiers who fought and died on the Union side in the Civil War who had the noble goal of ending the crime of slavery. And indeed it was the decision by a group of freed slaves in 1866 in South Carolina to disinter the bodies of Union soldiers who had died in Confederate captivity and who had been unceremoniously dumped in a collective grave, and to give them all decent burials, that established the first Memorial Day.
But to claim that the over 100,000 American soldiers who died on the front lines in World War I were defending American freedoms, as Memorial Day speakers like Obama do year after year, is simply a lie. World War I was never about a threat to America. It was a war of empire, fought by the European powers, none of which was any better or worse than the others, and the US joined that conflict not for noble reasons or for defense, but in hopes of picking up some of the pieces. My own maternal grandfather, a promising sprinter who had Olympic aspirations, was struck with mustard gas in the trenches and, unable to run anymore with his permanently scarred lungs, ended up having to settle for coaching high school as a career. (My paternal grandfather won a silver star for heroism as an ambulance driver on the front, but was so damaged by what he experienced that he never talked about it at all, my father says.) Sadly, their sacrifices and heroism served no noble cause.
World War II, at least in Europe, may have had some moral justification, though there can be some legitimate debate as to whether the US and its freedoms were ever really threatened, and certainly many of the Americans who died in that war saw their struggle as worthy, so that we may at least in good conscience honor their deaths.