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Memorializing The War Dead

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Message Douglas C. Smyth
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Now let's think about the war dead this Memorial Day past and remember about the over 55 thousand killed in Vietnam, the over 4,000 killed in Iraq. But think about this: what did they die for?


It is probably true that in Afghanistan we're fighting a non-state enemy that does at least threaten harm against our nation, but look at what the 55,000 dead bought in Vietnam. Vietnam, Communist Vietnam, is now a full trading partner of the US, although not as critical to our economy as the Communist nation to its north (the Peoples Republic of China).


About the only thing those 55,000 plus fatalities won for the US was about a decade of turmoil in Southeast Asia after it left Vietnam.


Will the 4,000 and counting in Iraq win the US even as much?


The prevailing rhetoric on the stump and amid the bunting of this Memorial Day is that our war dead paid the ultimate sacrifice "for Freedom." But did they, in Vietnam; are they in Iraq? Rhetoric does not meet reality.


It may comfort those who lost husbands, wives, lovers, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters in these wars to think that at least they were fighting "for Freedom," but in the wars we have fought, at least since Korea, and with the possible exception of the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the US was not fighting "for freedom." It was, and is, fighting for Empire, although it never acknowledged this openly. After all, neither the Vietnamese of Ho-Chi-Minh, nor the Iraqis of Saddam Hussein actually threatened the US's "freedom." Parenthetically, both were former allies, Ho-Chi-Minh against the Japanese in Southeast Asia, Saddam against the Iranians (we shared intelligence with him until about a week before the first Iraq war). Even Osama bin Laden was a former, if unwitting, ally in the fight in Afghanistan against the USSR. The US provided the resources for setting up, training and equipping the Mujahadeen, who later became al Qaeda.


These are not the only imperial wars the US has fought. The Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American war were explicitly imperialistic. At one point in the early 20th Century, it seemed possible that both Cuba and the Philippines would become American states. The US takeovers of Puerto Rico and Hawaii were also purely imperial ventures, and the Hawaiians of today (the native Hawaiians) still wish for what they had before: an independent nation.


I am not writing this to dishonor or discredit the sacrifices Americans have made for their country. Those sacrifices were real enough.


It's the rhetoric that isn't real; Americans dying in Iraq are not dying "for freedom;" they're dying so that American oil companies can gain real control of Iraqi oil, so that multi-national corporations can dominate Iraqi markets and so that the cronies of Bush-Cheney-McCain can continue to profit from the unbelievably lucrative war contracts that the occupation generates. Americans are dying, in other words, for very private profit, at the expense of the Iraqis and at the expense of the rest of the United States, which cannot afford to provide health care, or rebuild its crumbling infrastructure, or adequately support its lagging educational system in large part because of the huge war expenditures (voted for again, by the "Democrats" in the US Senate) and in part because our international debt is rapidly depleting the value of the only major asset we have left: the US dollar.


Americans are dying so that the US can become a bankrupt, second-rate nation, whose people's health is significantly poorer than most other industrialized nations, whose children are not being educated as well as French, Italian, or even Chinese children and whose roads, bridges, railroads and airports are falling noticeably behind even many "emerging" economies in Asia.


On Memorial Day this year, Americans should reject the smarmy rhetoric of "dying for freedom," and reflect upon what it is that Americans are really dying for. They die for a failing vision of American Empire, at least as doomed as Rome's was in, say AD 457, when Emperor Majorian took the throne. Rome fell nine years later, in part because Majorian's vision of ruling for the people died with him when he was assassinated in 461.


I do not imply that the US will "fall" as Rome did, but there are many parallels to the era, (see my <u>The Selfish Class</u> at when the ruling millionaire class (Roman Senators) believed that the Roman Empire was eternal; they were unwilling to part with even a small part of their wealth to finance economic recovery, or even defense "of the homeland." Their counterparts today are led by Senator McCain, who wants to make the tax-cuts for the wealthy permanent, while fighting even more imperialistic wars, and who is even willing to compromise on the use of torture, despite the fact that he was tortured himself--in one of the US's imperialistic wars.


What McCain and the pro-war party are really for is the continuation of imperial aggression against any nation (Iran, Venezuela, Somalia? China, Russia) they perceive as standing in the way of US global hegemony. That way lies obvious disaster, since the US can't even afford to maintain the two smallish wars of occupation in which it is currently engaged.


So, memorialize the war dead, but think seriously about why they died.

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I am a writer and retired college teacher. I taught college courses in Economics and Political Science (I've a Ph.D) and I've written as a free-lancer for various publications.

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