Monday, May 28, 2007
Memorial Day Fear and Loathing
How do I separate out the veterans of wars and conflicts I think had some justification for US involvement and those military actions which were illegal and/or immoral? Particularly when the last century has seen so many such actions by the US military? Do I get to choose which veterans and wars I want to celebrate? Of course not. It's pretty much an all-or-nothing deal, an uncritical and flag-waving patriotic event which denies such nuance. Love all the military on this day or be branded a subversive anti-American allied with and sympathetic to "the terrorists."
Memorial Day is our annual event to help reinforce nationalist jingoism. It serves to recall all past military glories in a nostalgic and positive light while attempting to firm public resolve for present/future military action. When the most militarily powerful nation on the earth celebrates its military, we also reinforce an arrogance, an attitude that whenever we use our military it is justified. When we confuse military might for moral superiority, we have lost something precious.
The flip side of celebration of the US military and victories is the dead, maimed and displaced on the other side of our military actions. It's facile to say such results are not our responsibility. We were forced into action by our enemies. That's a little like a man who batters a woman saying "It's her fault. I had to hit her."
Am I saying military action is never justified or that the US has never mobilized its military for just cause? No. But I'm hard pressed to think of a US military action in the last sixty years which I would put in this category.
For all the talk of honor and duty in our armed services, their large-scale actions are always directed by politicians. Politicians don't really take the same vows of honor and duty. National politician's oaths are both vague and specific to defending the Constitution of the US. And I get the distinct sense that these oaths are considered optional to many politicians. Or at least open to radical interpretation.
So while I am grateful, in a general way, for what our military has done to safeguard and defend our country, I have very mixed feelings about many of the specifics in recent history.