As another generation watches its veterans march and hears the bands play, our hearts ache. Is there any healing for Memorial Day, any hope for peace if we haven't come to hate War? We feel the tragic loss of life, limb, and peace of mind, the irrevocably changed lives - but we can't possibly comprehend the brutality, fear and horror that our troops endure. What then, in addition to personal loss, will all of us remember? Herman Wouk wrote: "The beginning of the end of War lies in Remembrance." "The only way to make peace is to remember what war is truly like." Beyond remembering those we've lost and honoring those who've served, aren't we obliged to face their terror and the reports of civilians killed in our drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, so that we can make peace?
There are tough barriers: the male psyche's testosterone-fueled drive to prove one's bravery and fearlessness - witness the put-downs so many of our troops face when they express fear and depression. Governments use the bond that results from a national trauma to create blind trust and cement war's justification. We're judged unpatriotic, unable to appreciate sacrifice, and traitorous if we object. Ah yes, there's Congressman Carl Schurz, warning of expansionism in 1899: "I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves " too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: "Our country, right or wrong!' They will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: "Our country--when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.'"--Carl Schurz
But Theodore Roosevelt, William Randolph Hearst, and Henry Cabot Lodge had won out, firmly convinced that a war, in this case, the Spanish-American War, would energize the country, see Evan Thomas' latest book, THE WAR LOVERS. When it expanded into the Philippines for four more years, the connection between expansionism and the use of torture reared its ugly head as Americans used water boarding for the first time.
Presidents hide war fever, preferring to treat signs of conflict as challenges to national pride, and/or a chance to get rid of a dictator, establish a new foothold, or acquire a resource. We still haven't found a way to remove a destructive leader without killing hundreds of thousands, including civilians. We have been mired in the age of barbarity, and hire PR agencies to drum up support, soft pedal statistics and civilian deaths, block photos of returning coffins and get behind the current administration's decisions in the Middle East - nothing new, as Hermann Goering chillingly stated in 1946:
"Naturally, the common people don't want war; . . . But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. ...voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country." (from Dr. Gustave Gilbert's Nuremberg Diary)
Faced with the asymmetrical challenge of al Qaeda, despite its pre-9/11 activities here and official indifference to them prior to 9/11, the Bush administration refocused on the threat from states which "harbor terrorists," recasting the al Qaeda threat as a "Global War on Terrorism." Bush, et al, created the War paradigm by legitimizing a state vs. state conflict, ignoring FBI agents, and spinning the bureaucracy into a top-heavy Department of Homeland Security.
Our presidents have ignored the stunning conclusions of the July 2008 RAND report, "How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qaeda," even though their study of 648 groups from 1968-2006 found that only seven (7) percent were destroyed by military force. Rand states, "There is no battlefield solution to terrorism," and warns against U.S. combat in Muslim countries because it stimulates terrorist recruiting.
The report's coauthor, Seth Jones, says, "All terrorist groups end, but terrorism, like crime, never ends," rendering useless terms like: "enemy combatants," "caught on the battlefield," and imprisonment for the "duration of the war," and making the practice of indefinite detention outrageous and untenable.
Meanwhile, the military runs the show, and our troops and civilians continue to die. The military/industrial complex can drag along both president and the people. Our remembering could change the tide.
America is a Dream in Process. Would that we not only lifted up what makes America great, but examined attitudes that cloud our interactions with the rest of humanity. Let's not stop with discovering who helped Faisal Shahzad, or we will remain vulnerable to the rising fear and hatred in Pakistan and Afghanistan towards America as a result of the drone attacks that have killed their people.
May each drumbeat this Memorial Day remind us of the insanity of war's waste and degradation so that future generations may celebrate Peace.