FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Only Way to Honor Veterans is to Stop Producing Them

I offer a post-Memorial Day reflection on a holiday I have never liked.  I propose instead a sober, fearless national examination the other 364 days each year on our endless imperial wars, with the last Monday in May reserved for a day off to experience what life might feel like without them.

I also deplore focus on America’s war dead rather than the far, far greater numbers America has killed in our nearly continuous wars of choice.  The aggregate death toll in Southeast Asia in the 1970s inflicted by direct, indirect and proxy US aggression and political destabilization in Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia was approximately 7,650,000.  The US death toll was 58,220, a ratio in our favor of 132/1. In our gratuitously justified “War on Terror” in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Physicians for Social Responsibility estimated 1.3 million Muslims killed while some 6,800 Americans have died, a ratio of 191/1. And that estimate excluded our destruction of Libya and ongoing proxy war on Syria with an American death toll limited to four in Benghazi and probably a few Special Forces “advisers” in Syria. Our victims deserve at least six to ten months of continuous memorial days to one day of ours, and our appropriate national mood should be not grief but remorse.

Public support for US wars depends upon racist propaganda: abstract categorization of other people with dehumanization of the category, what 19th Century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called “invidious distinctions” that obliterate others’ personal identity, dignity and value. Bewitched by invidious language, well-meaning but naive recruits to fight our imperial wars return irreversibly traumatized by indelible, inescapable memories of the people – not “gooks,” “hajis,” “ragheads” or 10-year-old “enemy combatants” – they have killed and/or seen killed. For memorial day reflections I recommend video testimonies at the 2008 Winter Soldier hearings in Silver Springs, MD, archived at the IVAW.org website and Democracy Now! For memorial day realism, the talk there by Jeremy Scahill remains as relevant today as it was eight years ago.  And the talk by Dr. Dahlia Wasfi (at 13:50) memorializes Rachel Corrie, a war hero and victim without weapon or uniform.

Throughout living memory our country has displayed a repeated dysfunctional cultural script, not a moral growth curve, not cultural maturation. In a 1933 speech, the once most decorated Marine in US history, Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, recounted, “I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

“I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

“During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

In his 1935 book, War is a Racket, Butler continued, “A few profit – and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.”

Butler’s experience-based understanding is conceptualized by Princeton political theorist Sheldon Wolin as “inverted totalitarianism” where industrial capitalism controls the state rather than 1930s fascism where the state dictated the industrial agenda.  Now facing imminent, catastrophic climate change with human and most other life hanging in the balance, we must starve the military-industrial beast and shift our resources to massive alternative energy development, planetary reforestation and soil restoration, and other climate change abatement measures. To do so we must dismantle the propaganda machine propelling resources into self-degrading international violence.

Every high school in America should assign Butler’s short book as homework before, over or after the Memorial Day holiday weekend, followed by lessons disclosing to every prospective military recruit the bloody truth of our monstrous, unbroken record of post-WWII violence and wholesale violations of international law.

Similarly, on MLK day, more important than the “I have a dream” speech, students should study King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech where he declared our country “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Nearly a half century later nothing has changed.  New generations must question why, arise against war, and do so quickly.

Less innocent than they appear, holidays typically serve mythic agendas. Heroic tales supplant essential facts and perspectives we desperately need. The truth of America’s relentless imperial militarism necessary to radically shift our priorities is never told.

The only meaningful way to honor veterans is to stop producing them by dishonoring war.

More articles by:

Jack Dresser, Ph.D. is National vice-chair, Veterans for Peace working group on Palestine and the Middle East and Co-Director of Al-Nakba Awareness Project in Eugene, Oregon  

Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
April 19, 2018
Ramzy Baroud
Media Cover-up: Shielding Israel is a Matter of Policy
Vijay Prashad
Undermining Brazilian Democracy: the Curious Saga of Lula
Steve Fraser
Class Dismissed: Class Conflict in Red State America
John W. Whitehead
Crimes of a Monster: Your Tax Dollars at Work
Kenn Orphan
Whistling Past the Graveyard
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail