As usual, Memorial Day was filled with weekend traffic jams to early summer coastal destinations, family picnics, BBQ, and automobile advertisements which seem to accept no shame in attempting to convince the public that there is no better way to honor our veterans than by shelling out tens of thousands for that new gas-guzzling SUV. In addition to these sad attempts by businesses to use Memorial Day as just another marketing ploy, there is no doubt that many of those same individuals also choose to load their bumpers with the “Support Our Troops” ribbons and the ever-so-popular “Freedom Isn’t Free” and “Let Freedom Ring” stickers. Where the problem lies is not in the act of these visual displays, but in the lack of thought associated with them.
In response, I emphatically raise the questions, Are you really supporting our troops? And,
How are the actions you take doing so?
I clearly recognize that there are deeply personal reasons for many to take these actions, whether they themselves are veterans or have family or friends who are veterans. For that sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice of ones life, we must be eternally grateful and use Memorial Day as a day to remember, to think, and to sincerely thank those who have served both at home and abroad. Only those veterans can truly know what war is like – not the numbed masses who cling to the latest episode of American Idol like they are waiting in a bread-line, blindly sporting their “patriotism” (read: ethnocentrism) through acts of arrogance, ignorance, and the thoughtless, almost robotic daily displays of red, white and blue propaganda passed down from decade to decade in the form of fanatical conservativeness veiled by a flag and an Uncle Sam smile. Machiavellian theory is welcomed with open arms in too many of our homes…and minds.
While Memorial Day should rightly be observed as a somber, respectful day to honor our country’s veterans, is should NOT be twisted and used to honor War, to glamorize War, to support War, as was the most recent case with Mr. Bush and company blatantly abusing Memorial Day by using it as a shield to both deflect criticism on our occupation of Iraq and to rally the American citizens once again behind the bogus notion of “spreading freedom and democracy” in the Middle East. How, (may I ask) can you expect to impose true democratic values through the barrel of a gun? How can you expect the support of the majority of Iraqi civilians when they have been the victims of four years and counting of military onslaught? When the parents and siblings of an Iraqi are murdered by indiscriminate bomb shrapnel from one of our “precision” missiles, how can you call that person a “terrorist” when they finally take up arms against us? How? Is this what we mean by “Letting Freedom Ring”?
No, Memorial Day is not a day to celebrate War and it surely is not a day to celebrate the atrocities of War and those in government (and corporate) positions who have taken our country to War through deception, lies, division and propaganda. Throughout history, War has been the tool most often utilized by the elite, the privileged, to fatten their pockets, to expand their power, and to demonize “the enemy” in the hopes that our citizenry become temporarily blinded by nationalistic hatred. This is clear – and it takes only some knowledge of history to see this is true. Henry David Thoreau understood this, as did Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Helen Keller, and Muhammad Ali. But of course, throughout history their accomplishments have been edited, censored, watered-down to fit nicely into our (approved) chapters of history, almost completely deleting their significant roles in activism and their blistering words and personal critiques of our so-called leaders and their destructive policies. Just one listen to Dylan’s song “Masters of War” is all it takes.
Therefore, I pose this challenge to and wish for the students of the current graduating classes of ’07…to question. Question what you have been told, what you have been taught. Question what you think you already know as fact. Because in this very act of questioning can we truly open ourselves to the notion that we really do not understand all that we think we do. Nothing is as simple as black and white and there are always multiple sides to every issue. Only when this is realized can you begin to acquire the knowledge and empathetic values necessary for the improvement of our society. Only then will your “education” truly begin. Many of you will be continuing your academic careers at the undergraduate-level in a college or university. But, this does not guarantee an education on its own. This is merely an opportunity for you to become more educated. It will ultimately be up to you individually to break out of your comfort zones and challenge yourselves through the exposure of different thoughts, experiences, ideas, theories, histories, cultures. My advice is to spend time abroad. The more time you spend abroad, the more you will not only learn about a foreign culture and language (both invaluable), but the more you will also learn about America, yourself, and how you fit in and can ultimately make a sustainable impact on the improvement of our global community. This is my challenge and wish for you.
Lastly, as this article began, I urge us all to spend just one minute today to think about the institution of War, what former President Dwight D. Eisenhower deemed the Military-Industrial Complex, the horror of War, the uselessness of War…and to ask yourselves if the consumer-driven, grossly-indulgent, materialistic, arrogant way of life in which much of our society lives, is worth the destruction of lives in poorer nations abroad, and the unnecessary deaths of too many of America’s men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers? Are we really willing to pay that price for America’s economic prosperity and hegemonic status globally – a prosperity which is increasingly fattening the pockets of the rich, while further sacrificing the poor? Is a barrel of oil really more valuable than an American or an Iraqi life? I argue not. I argue it is high time we stop living like pigs and start living like human beings. I argue we demand governmental-representation which abides by the laws laid forth in the Constitution. And I argue that the only way to truly “Support Our Troops”, is to bring them home. Next Memorial Day, let us not have to honor more dead soldiers – but instead honor the lives we saved by bringing them home.