The United States is the most militarized and jingoistic nation on earth. Its foreign policy is guided by imperialist militarism, neoliberal capitalism and racial xenophobia. For more than sixteen years now, three presidential administrations have carried out a so-called “War on Terror” (GWOT), a perpetual state of war that is waged globally, under the depraved reasoning that “the world is a battlefield,” to quote investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill. As demonstrated by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the GWOT is conducted through conventional warfare. More often, however, it is executed through covert or “dirty” wars, against groups and individuals in many other nations.
The U.S. has the financial and logistical capacity to wage these illegal wars. Its bloated military budget is larger than the next seven countries combined. It is by far the largest operator of military installations abroad, maintaining nearly 800 bases in around 70 countries. The ever-growing military-industrial complex, which President Eisenhower warned about in his farewell address, permeates every facet of our society – from an economy largely dependent on the war industry, to military recruiting in our public schools, to police militarization. This toxic culture of war is underscored on different national holidays, particularly Memorial Day.
Memorial Day – a day originating in 1868 (Decoration Day), on which the gravesites of the Civil War dead were decorated with flowers – has morphed into a day that conflates the memorialization of killed soldiers with the glorification of war. The perennial flag-waving, ultra-nationalist speeches, garish street parades and hyper-consumerism of Memorial Day do not honor these soldiers. What might, however, is working to prevent future war and nurture peace – honoring their memory by not sending more men and women into harm’s way and to kill and maim in wars based on lies. To have any chance at being effective, however, this work must include efforts aimed at increasing public awareness about the many causes and costs of war.
Long-time consumer advocate, lawyer, and author Ralph Nader affirms in the essay, “Strengthening Memorial Day,” honoring our war casualties should be about more than their loss. According to Nader, “waging strong peace initiatives is also a way to remember those human beings, soldiers and civilians, who never returned to their homes. “Never again” should be our tribute and promise to them.”
Referring to the post-9/11 invasions, in “Remember This on Memorial Day: They Didn’t Fall, They Were Pushed,” Ray McGovern, former Army officer and senior CIA analyst, tenders a hypophoric question: what constitutes a show of respect for the U.S. troops killed in these wars and for the family members on Memorial Day? To which McGovern responds, “Simple: Avoid euphemisms like “the fallen” and expose the lies about what a great idea it was to start those wars and then to “surge” tens of thousands of more troops into those fools’ errands.”
Bill Quigley, law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, writes in “Memorial Day: Praying for Peace While Waging Permanent War?” that “Memorial Day is, by federal law, a day of prayer for permanent peace.” This is a contradiction, though — based on the conduct of our government. Quigley asks: “is it possible to honestly pray for peace while our country is far and away number one in the world in waging war, military presence, military spending and the sale of weapons around the world?” He offers five suggestions for how we might alter this reality, the first two being, “learn the facts and face the truth that the US is the biggest war maker in the world” and “commit ourselves and organize others to a true revolution of values and confront the corporations and politicians who continue to push our nation into war and inflate the military budget with the hot air of permanent fear mongering.” Quigley emphasizes that, “Only when we work for the day when the US is no longer the world leader in war will we have the right to pray for peace on Memorial Day.”
In an article published in The Boston Globe (1976), the people’s historian Howard Zinn urged readers to rethink Memorial Day, who we honor that day, and our national priorities. Dr. Zinn wrote: “Memorial Day will be celebrated … by the usual betrayal of the dead, by the hypocritical patriotism of the politicians and contractors preparing for more wars, more graves to receive more flowers on future Memorial Days. The memory of the dead deserves a different dedication. To peace, to defiance of governments.”... “Memorial Day should be a day for putting flowers on graves and planting trees. Also, for destroying the weapons of death that endanger us more than they protect us, that waste our resources and threaten our children and grandchildren.”
Each Memorial Day, members of Veterans For Peace (VFP), an international nonprofit that works to abolish war and promote peace, participates in a wide range of nonviolent protest actions in cities and towns nationwide. This year is no different. A major VFP action will be held in Washington, DC, through a series of events termed “Veterans On the March! Stop Endless War, Build for Peace,” May 29 and 30, 2017. VFP’s military veterans, military family members and allies will converge in DC in solidarity to end war as instrument of national policy; build a culture of peace; expose the true costs of war; and, heal the wounds of war.
On Memorial Day, VFP and its friends will gather on this solemn and respectful occasion to deliver letters at the Vietnam Memorial Wall, intended as a commemoration of all combatants and civilians who died in Vietnam and all wars. VFP will mourn the tragic and preventable loss of life, and call for people to strive to abolish war, in the name of those who have died and for the sake of all those who live today. The “Letters at the Wall” remembrance is an activity of the Vietnam Full Disclosure Campaign, a national project of VFP. In her essay, “Preparing for the Next Memorial Day,” CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin shares the story of one of the veterans who partakes in the Project: “As Vietnam vet Dan Shea said when he reflected on the names etched and not etched on the Vietnam Memorial, including the missing names of the Vietnamese and all the victims of Agent Orange, including his own son: “Why Vietnam? Why Afghanistan? Why Iraq? Why any war? .…May the mighty roar of the victims of this violence silence the drums that beat for war.”
On Tuesday, May 30, VFP will host a mass rally at the Lincoln Memorial, where speakers will boldly and loudly call for an end to war, to the assault on our planet, and to the abuse and oppression of all people. Calls will also be made for people to stand for peace and justice, at home and abroad. Following the rally, participants will march to the White House to present a list of demands to the President stipulating that the systemic state violence which is preventing a just, peaceful and sustainable way of life for current and future generations must stop immediately. Planning for this rally/march started in response to VFP’s galvanizing statement about Trump’s Military Budget and the desire and responsibility of veterans, citizens and human beings to express strong resistance to Trump’s racist and antagonistic policies and commit to find a better way to peace.
In addition to these actions, VFP will once again fill a void in the National Memorial space by offering people an opportunity to bear witness on a touring memorial to all the costs of war on all sides. Not only do we lack a memorial to the American combat dead in Iraq and Afghanistan and other post-Vietnam wars, but we lack a monument to the many suicide deaths and families torn by the traumas of exposure to war. The Swords to Plowshares Memorial Belltower, a 24-foot tall tower covered with silver wind-blown ‘bricks’ made from recycled cans, provides an opportunity for tribute to these war victims. Initiated by VFP’s Eisenhower Chapter, the Belltower is dedicated to stopping the cycle of war and violence, healing the wounds of war that is caused on both sides of conflict, and providing a forum for all victims to start the healing process caused by wars.
Join VFP in Washington, DC on May 29 and 30 to stop hegemonic thinking, dismantle the military-industrial complex, and demand a transformation of national priorities from death and destruction to social uplift and peace. These shared goals can be achieved if enough people come together and engage in nonviolent social change for a better tomorrow.
Brian Trautman is a U.S. Army veteran, a national board member of Veterans For Peace, and a peace educator/activist. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianJTrautman.