We mark yet another Memorial Day complete with the names of more American soldiers who have died in the seemingly endless state of war we have found ourselves embroiled in since 2001. These wars seem to ebb and flow while never coming to a conclusion. We pull out troops only to find the nations in question facing new threats and seeking more intervention to end the death and destruction. Casualties mount on all sides – both combatant and civilian. Causes are stated and replaced as they become obvious fabrications by the powers that be – intent on going to war at any cost, with goals either unstated or unattainable .
The cost of these wars – what we are asked to stop and remember – in terms of individual sacrifices and deaths make the occasion a solemn one, indeed. Unfortunately, the sacrifices seem to be valued more by average Americans than by the elites in Washington who see them as primarily means to their political ends. As the 2016 Presidential campaign revs up, candidates vie to be perceived as the most bellicose in order to set themselves apart from their opponents by proposing audacious strategies to undo the mistakes of the past and lead America to victory against all odds.
For one moment on one day every year, Americans are asked to unite in recognition of the courage, valor and willingness of our soldiers to face having to pay the ultimate price in defending the lives and freedoms of their fellow citizens. It should, I think, also be a time for assessing what we are allowing our government to do to the people we send into battle and the people and nations we fight against. Are we actually achieving worthwhile goals that increase safety and security for people both here and worldwide? Is war the only or even the best option available? If so, these achievements should be identifiable and demonstrable to those they are said to be benefitting. I fail to see very much of that in any of the conflicts involving American forces since as far back as the Vietnam War, which is as far back as my memory of such things extends.
The courage and self-sacrifice of individuals who serve in our conflicts is, indeed, commendable – especially in this day of an all-volunteer military (though even that is dubious, given the economic constraints that lead many to serve). Few who actually serve stand to gain much from doing so in any material sense of the term. Some are ideologically inclined to serve for patriotic reasons or to serve a cause that benefits mankind, but for every Pat Tillman who foregoes a multimillion dollar sports career to serve in such a manner, there are many more who choose not to risk their necks for such lofty ideals – especially when they can send others to do so in their stead. Unlike during the Vietnam War, when people had to find legal ways to avoid the draft, nowadays they merely need to choose not to enlist.
The makeup of our military becomes more and more skewed with the passage of time. While many speak of the 1% of the wealthiest among us as being more and more removed from the experiences of average Americans, and our government has come to represent their interests to a far greater degree than they do the rest of us, people in the military serving multiple tours of duty in combat zones have become another very small segment of our population that may in fact be given the shaft by our government more grievously than most of the rest of us. The fact that it has become so easy for the politicians and media to gather support for military action has much to do with the fact that so few of us have so far been placed in any tangible physical danger when the bombs and bullets start flying. Fewer people than ever before even know or are related to people who are serving in the military, let alone serve tours of duty abroad themselves.
The politicians exploit the desire of people to be seen as “patriotic” to start wars that actually end up having little or nothing to do with the purposes stated by our leaders in embarking upon them. People do, over time, come to question motivations when the wars bog down and become quagmires, but getting a real antiwar movement going in earnest has been difficult to do since the end of the last conflict that involved a broad cross-section of American society. Ending the draft didn’t end antiwar sentiments, but it certainly removed them from the close proximity to direct contact with armed conflict.
The best kind of Memorial Day, which I hope can be accomplished during my lifetime, would be one where no wars exist in which we lose men and women fighting for the interests of wealthy individuals and corporations that serve interests that are contrary to the future wellbeing of humanity and the planet we inhabit. As things stand now, most people see Memorial Day as a day off from school or work (although more and more people don’t get it off these days – my wife left for work as I began writing this). Congress uses it as an excuse for a paid week off, whether they have urgent pending business or not.
As military spending takes up an ever-increasing portion of the budget (most of which Congress refuses to even openly debate as discretionary spending subject to cuts), other areas of the budget get the axe rather than having revenues raised to meet very real non-military needs. The USA spends way more on “defense” than any other nation in the world, yet we have military veterans, disabled and otherwise, who face inadequate medical care, higher than normal unemployment and homelessness. Openly debating the military spending could certainly allow for adequate national defense while also allocating resources more effectively to meet other pressing national needs.
Memorial Day is an important time to reflect on our direction as a nation. Honoring our fallen warriors is important. Let’s do so while making it steadily more and more difficult for any of us to remember anyone who died in combat. At the very least, we need to make damn sure that future wars are not fought under false pretenses, started by massive propaganda campaigns comprised of multiple lies and paid for with no regard to the same budget allocations and taxing/spending rules faced elsewhere in the budget. Stop trying to rob my mother’s Social Security and Medicare or my child’s education so your CEO pals at various defense contractors can buy bigger yachts and more infrastructure half a world away can be blown to bits. Those school kids in Yemen and Syria we’re killing by accident are a far smaller threat to our everyday lives here than the pathetic gun control laws we have for the people already killing folks in our midst.
Don’t create a disabled military veteran you do not intend to care for. Remember those who died in our defense, but make sure that in the future, they do not die in vain. Among the candidates for office in the next election, choose those who show a reluctance to resort to violence at the drop of a hat. Vote for people who dedicate themselves to finding peaceful solutions to legitimate disputes, rather than those seeking to act like schoolyard bullies willing to use force to get their way by steamrolling over others mercilessly. Might does not make right in any philosophy I’m aware of. Make those already in office stop keeping vital information from us when they decide to act. When they say they’re keeping secrets from us for our own good, more often than not, they’re doing so for THEIR own good – because many of us would not accept their explanations as justification for their actions.
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