A Veteran For Peace Speaks on Memorial Day 2024

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

My fellow veterans and you who have assembled with us: How many years have we mustered for our own Memorial Day rituals since we repudiated our previous roles as servants of militarism and war-making and turned to anti-war activism? How many times have we implored our fellow citizens to note the tragic and dreadful consequences and the deceits and lies that inevitably accompany war? Despite our efforts our nation’s rulers again and again spin their rationales to decry our “adversaries and enemies, ” to scheme us into yet more war or provide the weapons and “intelligence” for others to safeguard THEIR “interests, as is the case today in Ukraine and Gaza, and many more places few know anything about.

We are conscious that all of us swallowed the pill in our earliest years; otherwise, we would not be standing here today as veterans. But our military “service” in one way or other derailed our false consciousness and led us to conclude that war and militarism is a literal dead end.

And so, year after year we have appealed to our fellow citizens to take note of what we who know first-hand of war and militarism have to say and to join us and bring this existential nightmare to an end before it brings us all to an end.

When was the last time the United States faced true danger from a foreign enemy? Could the Vietnamese have invaded our country? The Iraqis, the Afghanis? Was it during World War II, our so-called “Good War?” Germany failed to cross the English Channel. How could it attack America? We are told that our armed forces were dispatched to root out the evil of Nazism and its antisemitism yet how do we explain why the State Department refused entry to desperate European Jews? Why were American Jewish pleas to bomb the death camps ignored. Why were Nazi war criminals brought to our shores to aid in the development of our then newly minted Central Intelligence Agency and to advance the development of ICBM’s and then to project our nuclear threat across the entire globe?

But those measures were and are solely defensive say our leaders. Defensive against whom? The only military threat from foreign governments we face is nuclear war and I would remind us all that China has nukes today because during the Korean War both Truman and Eisenhower openly threatened to use them against China and by implication against the Soviet Union. Despite the millions of deaths caused by American wars since the U.S. briefly became dominant in 1945 our so-called leaders still claim that these fatalities and atrocities were brought about by our nation’s unending commitment to the vaunted principles of “freedom, justice and human rights” How do we rationalize such deceitful claims to the millions of Korean, Vietnamese, Iraqi, Afghani civilians and so many, many more innocent and suffering victims of our war machine?

And yes, we must stress that American armed forces have been among these victims. Global geo-politics is an international chess or poker game of power, a derby pursued by so-called leaders ensconced in safe comfort far from the killing fields, who toss their pawns with nary a sigh, always accompanied by avowals of moral righteousness as they cash their chips in on Wall Street.

On this day the nation asserts that American war dead are heroes at the first line of defense. The nation honors their ultimate sacrifices with a flag for mothers and wives, militarized parades and ceremonial rituals in our cemeteries as though such solemnities can ever purge the grief and anguish that inescapably will endure for lifetimes.

Truth be told: Geo-politics of the 20th and 21st centuries has been a deathly violent dogfight between the elites of nations seeking dominance in their spheres and our soldiers and theirs have been naught but the pawns in their intrigues and lies.

There can be no doubt that World War I led only to World War II and at this moment we are sliding toward the Third and final war. Each war brought forth ever more devastating weapons of mass destruction, and now the most horrific of all. As humanity faces the threat of nuclear extinction coupled with the inevitability of evermore encroaching climate disaster we must persuade our fellow citizens that we are now embarked upon the most insane fool’s errand of all time.

We must not surrender to despondency.  There is courage and possibility in the air, greatly so. The revolt of the young is mounting as they contemplate the withering of their futures, their massive debt, their shrinking employment potential, and the growing prospect of dystopia. We must encourage their escalating insurrection against the ravenous greed and suicidal trajectory of the military industrial congressional media university multiplex. One tenth of the Pentagon’s annual budget could provide Medicare for all and many more projects to improve life for all.

On too many occasions I have apologized to students for my generation’s betrayal of their future. Now, as many young take matters into their own hands we must support them to our maximum extent.

Spoken on Behalf of Boston Chapter of Veterans For Peace, Boston Common, May 27, 2024

Paul Atwood is the author of War and Empire: the American Way of Life.