The United States has set aside one day in the year, Memorial Day, to remember those who died in military service. For the University of California-Irivine that is not enough. As the Chancellor’s office has explained in its most recent newsletter, the university will honor veterans with a number of events during the week after Memorial Day: a ceremony at the flagpoles, planting flags in Aldrich Park, and hosting an appreciation dinner. It’s worth reading the complete text of the Chancellor’s message of May 2015.
“Recognizing those who serve”
“Next week, our campus will carry on our tradition of honoring veterans and military personnel with several Memorial Day events. On Tuesday, May 26, our Veteran Services Center will host the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the flagpoles. That same day, students, faculty, staff, and community members will join together to plant 8,000 flags in Aldrich Park to recognize those who have died serving our country. On Thursday, May 28, the center will host the 6th Annual UCI Veteran Appreciation Dinner and award the Thomas T. Tierney Scholarship and the Bridging the Gap military student scholarship to more than 20 student-veterans. This special event is an opportunity to show our appreciation as a campus community for students who have put their lives on the line to ensure our nation’s safety. All proceeds from the dinner go to scholarships and the Military Student Program Fund, which supports UCI veteran and military student resources. I hope you will join us in recognizing our U.S. heroes.”
After reading this, a number of observations and questions came to mind.
Note the simplistic assumptions that soldiers who died did so “serving their country” and that those who served did so “to ensure our nation’s safety”. Has every war the soldiers fought been for our safety? Is it not possible that some of the many American wars were unjust wars for nefarious purposes? Is it not possible that some wars benefitted only select segments of the population while requiring others to pay the costs in blood and treasure? Did the U.S. wars against the Native Americans across the continent, the free Blacks in Florida, the Mexicans, the Spanish, the Filipinos, the Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Afghanis, the Iraqis, for example, really ensure our safety? Note the questions not asked.
Note that nothing is said about the falsifications on which the war in Iraq, for example, was based. Is the Chancellor suggesting to us that the officials of the U.S. government never deceive the public about the reasons for war? Does he really believe that the war in Iraq was based on truthful claims? Have the weapons of mass destruction finally been found? Has a connection between the regime of Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda been proven at last? If a war is based on falsehoods, can it be just? If a war is unjust, can those who fight it be “heroes”? If men and women fight an unjust war but think it honorable, is it not the responsibility of the university to point out the contradiction between their beliefs and reality? To not do so is to let them remain deceived and manipulated. If the university perpetuates the fiction of a just and honorable war when the war was no such thing, is it honoring the veterans or mocking them? Note again the questions not asked. Note the ideological dishonesty under the guise of appreciation.
Note that nothing is said of the tens of thousands of living veterans wounded by war: those with Traumatic Brain Injury, with PTSD, with painful memories of sexual assault, with missing limbs and scarred bodies. Neither is there any mention of suicidal vets and homeless vets. Is it asking too much to recognize those living veterans who still suffer? Note the limitation of compassion in the silence.
Note that there is no mention of the antiwar veterans on our campus and throughout the country who think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were unnecessary and unjust and who just might prefer that the university administration and faculty condemn those officials who deceived them every step of the way from recruitment to boot camp to deployment to separation from service. Have organizations such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, and Vietnam Veterans Against the War ceased to exist? Note that nothing is said about the university’s responsibility to educate students – including student-veterans – about unjust wars, imperialist wars, wars of aggression and war crimes. Is this failure to recognize antiwar veterans, students, faculty, and staff a self-serving capitulation to off-campus pressure groups and influential pro-war donors? Note the censure of opposition in the exclusion of dissent.
Note that nothing is said of the civilians who died in America’s wars. The majority who died in the U.S. wars against the Native Americans, the Filipinos, the Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Afghanis, and the Iraqis were civilians – not soldiers whether foreign or American. Almost all of those people were never ever a threat to the safety of Americans; their deaths from massive American firepower were unnecessary and unjust. And the destruction of their homes and villages in country after country was intentional, widespread, and thorough. Why does the university remember soldiers rather than these unfortunate fellow human beings? Is it because soldiers are more valuable than civilians or is it because the university wants to nurture ROTC on campus for a military that currently has difficulty recruiting college graduates? Note the militarist politics of UCI’s Memorial events.
Note that nothing, absolutely nothing, is said about the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Yemen – the children, the women, the men – who have died because of the American attacks. Their cumulative death toll now numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Note that the flags for Aldrich Park are for the Americans only. Note the nationalism promoted through flag-planting ritual. Note that brown lives don’t matter. Note the racism of it all hiding behind honor and loyalty.
Note the cunning arrogance of imperial power.
Chuck O’Connell is a Lecturer in Sociology at UCI.