FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Honoring Real Vets; Remembering Real War

Those of us who are veterans and military family members, and I am both, have a special responsibility this Veterans Day.

We need to honor our veterans without idealizing them, because idealizing does much to erase the reality that was (and is) our story. Instead of honoring us as heroes on pedestals this Veterans Day, tell our real stories. Many of us have never craved a pedestal, and we do not want our reality to be erased in yet another stage-managed orgy of nationalism designed to gain the acquiescence of the public to send yet more soldiers to risk life, limb, health, and sanity on an errand of plunder disguised as self-defense or liberation.

Many younger people are unaware that Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I. In 2003, we would do well to reflect on what exactly was ended November 11, 1918. There are lessons for us to learn from that even now. We also need to know something about what happened afterward.

Just as veterans themselves are often stripped of their human complexity, and therefore their true history, in the process of idealizing them, so is our national history frequently idealized almost to the point of being mythologized until our true history is lost. The story that World War I was undertaken for some noble purpose is just such a myth.

President Woodrow Wilson, far from being the great progressive into which official mythmaking has transformed him, was elected on a platform of unabashed white supremacy, and was an ardent public admirer of the Ku Klux Klan. Let’s just put these hard things out there first, to set the stage for his decision to commit US troops to World War I.

For the first three years of the war, Wilson himself said there was no appreciable moral difference between the Allies and the Germans. Wilson was elected for his fierce defense of the subjugation of Blacks, and also on the merit of his opposition to entering the war.

But during the conflict the Allies borrowed heavily from US banks, purchased vast amounts of materiel from US companies on credit, and took loans with the US Treasury Department. By 1917, it became apparent to the US that the Allies could lose the war, which would cause them to default on billions of dollars of debt owed to both public and private entities in the US, which might precipitate a domestic economic collapse.

The American public was whipped up into a war fever with claims that Germany now presented an imminent threat to the security of the United States, and by 1918 Congress was stampeded into passing the Sedition Act that clamped own on the press, criminalized discouragement of the purchase of war bonds, and jailed political opponents. 116,563 American soldiers died so war profiteers could collect their debts.

After the war, the US financial establishment refused to cancel the debts of the devastated Allies, who in turn imposed hellish reparations payments on Germany to offset their payments. The US political establishment followed the self-serving advice of Wall Street and the corporations and plunged the world into a deep and destabilizing economic crisis, setting the stage for the rise of extreme racial nationalism in Germany. Two decades later, the world was plunged into another sea of blood and fire.

Before, during, and after.

Before, there were schemes and lies. During, there was death and destruction. After, there was destabilization that led to deeper destruction. In exchange for their lives, limbs, health, and sanity, the veterans got a pedestal that erased the trenches, the lice, the mustard gas, the blood, the nightmares… all of it.

Perhaps if we quit erasing history, we can stop repeating it.

Click here to read an interview with Goff.

STAN GOFF is the author of “Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti” (Soft Skull Press, 2000) and of the upcoming book “Full Spectrum Disorder” (Soft Skull Press, 2003). He is a member of the BRING THEM HOME NOW! coordinating committee, a retired Special Forces master sergeant, and the father of an active duty soldier. Email for BRING THEM HOME NOW! is bthn@mfso.org.

Goff can be reached at: sherrynstan@igc.org

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
Patrick Cockburn
Is ISIS About to Lose Its Last Stronghold in Syria?
Joseph Grosso
The Invisible Class: Workers in America
Kim Ives
Haiti’s Popular Uprising Calls for President Jovenel Moïse’s Removal
John Carroll Md
Dispatch From Haiti: Trump and Breastfeeding
Alycee Lane
On Heat Waves and Climate Resistance
Ed Meek
Dershowitz the Sophist
Howard Lisnoff
Liberal Massachusetts and Recreational Marijuana
Ike Nahem
Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle
Olivia Alperstein
Kavanaugh and the Supremes: It’s About Much More Than Abortion
Manuel E. Yepe
Korea After the Handshake
Robert Kosuth
Militarized Nationalism: Pernicious and Pervasive
Binoy Kampmark
Soft Brexits and Hard Realities: The Tory Revolt
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Localization: a Strategic Alternative to Globalized Authoritarianism
Kevin Zeese - Nils McCune
Correcting The Record: What Is Really Happening In Nicaragua?
Chris Wright
The American Oligarchy: A Review
Kweli Nzito
Imperial Gangster Nations: Peddling “Democracy” and Other Goodies to the Untutored
Christopher Brauchli
The Defenestration of Scott Pruitt
Ralph Nader
Universal Voting Dissolves the Obstacles Facing Voters
Ron Jacobs
Vermont: Can It Happen Here?
Thomas Knapp
Helsinki: How About a Fresh START?
Seth Sandronsky
A Fraught Century
Graham Peebles
Education and the Mental Health Epidemic
Bob Lord
How to Level the Playing Field for Workers in a Time of Waning Union Power
Saurav Sarkar
I Got Arrested This Summer (and So Should You)
Winslow Myers
President Trump’s Useful Idiocy
Kim C. Domenico
Outing the Dark Beast Hiding Behind Liberal Hope
CounterPunch News Service
First Big Strike Since Janus Ruling Hits Vermont Streets
Louis Proyect
Survival of the Fittest in the London Underground
David Yearsley
Ducks and Études
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail