Memorial Day is now three days behind us. The patriotic fervor of the day has dulled to a low ebb. Citizens, more distant than ever from the military, can once again forget about the soldiers dying far away. For most Americans it’s time to go back to their daily grind until the shadow of Veterans Day reminds them to wave flags and post thank yous on social media.
As for libertarians, it’s downright antithetical to celebrate a day like Memorial Day, so it’s a relief when the day passes. The idea of memorializing soldiers, the guns in the itchy trigger fingers of the State’s hand, seems loathsome. These are the people who kill enemy and innocents alike, unquestioning, based on orders given by men who view battlefields as chessboards, soldiers as pawns, and blood as a lubricant in their geopolitical ends and means.
Over on AntiWar.com, Lucy Steigerwald (my sister) writes in her critique of Memorial Day that “It is not morally neutral to join the military, and so it’s not morally neutral to mourn war dead.” Sheldon Richman at the Free Association blog also views Memorial Day in a negative light, (to say the least).
Today is Revisionist History Day, what others call Memorial Day. Americans are supposed to remember the country’s war dead while being thankful that they protected our freedom and served our country. However, reading revisionist history … teaches that the fallen were doing no such thing. Rather they were and are today serving cynical politicians and the “private” component of the military-industrial complex in the service of the American Empire.
But this ignores the millions of soldiers killed who were drafted in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. They didn’t choose to join the military, they were coerced. It also ignores the fact that the world only exists in its current capacity because of the blood spilled in the American Revolution. Was that war just? What about World War II? How many civilians have to be killed before some kind of intervention becomes necessary or moral?
You don’t have to believe in the morality of war to honor those who died. But by all means parse out each individual soldier. Play St. Peter and judge them on their worthiness of being honored. Go ahead and memorialize the 53 percent that meets your criteria while making sure none of the 47 percent receive any of your well-wishes. If you want to find someone to blame, there’s a much more worthy target than soldiers — especially the dead ones.
The blame for wars lies squarely at the feet of the government. It’s easy to excoriate soldiers for being the weapons of war, but that ignores the fingers pulling the trigger. With drones replacing front line soldiers, the impetus to change the way our government operates grows exponentially. When war becomes as cold and sterile as playing a video game, it doesn’t bode well for a peaceful world.
You cannot hope to put an end to warfare by heaping blame on the soldiers. It’s counterproductive and only inflames the passions of the citizenry. To spur change, our words and efforts have to be focused on the highest halls of power. The State will try and deflect, to blame the rest of the world for forcing their hand, for coercing them into war. It will arouse patriotism through statues and songs and through co-opting days of memorial.
It is far too easy to get caught up in celebrating Memorial Day the way the government wants us to. They want us to forget the endless wars, the needless interventions. But that’s not the point. Memorial Day wasn’t started by the government as a way to stoke patriotism. It was a simple day of remembering those who died in battle, no matter who or why.
Memorial Day isn’t a once a year quote thanking the military for their service. It’s not an excuse to wave a flag and proclaim our country the greatest in the world. It’s not an excuse to hate anti-war activists and those who would dare speak out against our foreign policy. The State has equated the day with patriotism to dull the senses of the masses. To cow those who would speak out against the heroic American solider serving selflessly overseas to protect our freedoms, Democracy; whatever the buzz words of the day are. But that’s not what Memorial Day is for.
It is a day to honor American soldiers who have died in battle. That’s all.
It’s really that simple. There’s nothing pro-war or pro-government about it. If anything, the concept of remembering the hundreds of thousands of dead American soldiers is decidedly anti-war. If more people remember the cost of war in human terms then it becomes harder for the government to abuse its powers.
The government may have stolen Memorial Day for their own means, but that doesn’t mean remembering the fallen should make us uncomfortable. Remember that as long as government has the power of life and death, there will be more and more soldiers who die and become merely statistics in a book. So celebrate Memorial Day, and remember the soldiers — maybe more than once a year — but do more than that; fight for a world in which they no longer have to be memorialized.