A Multi-Purpose Holiday
Monday is Memorial Day in the USA. For weeks already we have been bombarded with advertising about Memorial Day “sales” by car dealers, big box retailers, and drive-in restaurant chains. We are also enticed to travel “destinations” over the span of what is a three-day weekend for many. The holiday prop for this commercial frenzy is defined in Wikipedia,
“Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.”
That’s a worthy gesture I support. I would extend that sentiment though to include all who have perished in wars–including combatants of all sides and the civilian “collateral damage” as well.
But the day is not limited to quiet respect for the fallen through prayer by the religious or decorating graves. Politicians and brass hats always loudly use the occasion to try to whip up support for current wars adding to the list of the departed while on duty. That they are largely ignored by those taking a long weekend for recreation or shopping seems an insufficient response to such life-and-death matters.
When I was a little kid, I often pestered my maternal grandfather to let me peek at his Marine dress blue uniform he had preserved since his post-World War I honorable discharge. In those radio days, I often sat with him to listen to a fifteen-minute performance of the US Marine Band playing Sousa marches every day at 4PM on WDAF. That music stirred me then–and still does.
While he was clearly proud of his stint as a leatherneck, grandpa was no jingoist. He never personally got in to combat–he mainly guarded the Navy’s coal in Guantanamo and the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the transition to oil-fired boilers. But he saw and heard enough from those returning from the trenches in Europe to convince him such slaughter and maiming of good people should never again be permitted. He was one of the few family members who defended my later antiwar views.
In my book, the last just war fought by the U.S. armed forces was the Civil War that gave rise to Decoration Day. That conflict had a righteous cause–abolishing slavery. All since have been driven by corporate and financial interests of the class that rules.
U.S. armed forces for decades carried out internal genocidal campaigns against American Indian nations.
The Spanish-American War, launched around what proved to be a false pretext, took the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba away from a crumbling empire and established the USA as a global power.
The quick victory against Spain opened what military historians call the Banana Wars–a series of military interventions in Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Nicaragua was occupied almost continuously from 1912-1933–until a liberation uprising led by Augusto César Sandino, and a Depression budget crisis, forced American withdrawal.
Late American entry in to what President Wilson came to call the War to End All Wars–my grandpa’s war–tipped the balance of power in a bloody impasse to the alliance led by the old and brutal British Empire against the newly assertive German one. From that point on, the USA became the strongest global power.
To overcome massive public opposition to U.S. involvement in what became the Second World War, FDR skillfully maneuvered the Japanese in to firing the first shot. As a warning of what the American super-power was now capable, that war ended with the only use to date of nuclear weapons against human beings.
Reeling from the loss of China to the Chinese, the Truman administration got UN sanction for the Korean War–a stalemate still only in truce status.
Another setback for Washington was the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba–secretly armed and given limited tactical support by U.S. armed and intelligence forces–but stopped on the beach by the revolution’s defenders.
LBJ followed up on JFK’s earlier policy of sending U.S. “advisers” to a corrupt dictatorship in south Vietnam with an all-out disastrous seven-year war ending in defeat.
Johnson also found time to dispatch GIs once more to the Dominican Republic to oust a democratically elected socialist government.
Reagan organized a massive task force to invade tiny Grenada because of their ties to Cuba.
When Panama’s dictator, long loyal to U.S. policies, got sideways with his masters Bush I carried out his first military action. He, of course, followed that up with perhaps the most lop-sided major conflict in history–the coalition effort in the First Gulf War.
His son went back for a second helping of quick victory in Iraq–leading to a total destruction of civil society in that country that continues even since American withdrawal after an eight-year occupation.
This is not an exhaustive list. There were numerous other small interventions of varying military success. And, of course, I have yet to mention the longest war in U.S. military history. It is still going, in fact experiencing a new Taliban offensive in Afghanistan. Far from presenting any kind of credible exit strategy, the Obama administration has managed to spread the conflict in to Pakistan as well.
I love the diverse working class majority of the country of my birth and think we are as good as any. I’ve never been a flag burner. While I’ve enjoyed experiences in other lands I prefer to stay where I am to fight for a better place rather than becoming an expat.
But I understand that these arrogant imperial policies of the government that speaks in our name have earned fear, mistrust, and outrage among much of the world. Some strike back with horrible vengeful acts of terrorism. The U.S. superpower war machine is not only morally reprehensible but endangers the security, freedom, and material interests of my America–working class America.
It particularly cynically endangers the mostly working class men and women who volunteered to serve their country in uniform. Many have been killed, and many more have suffered physical and emotional wounds, fighting wars based on lies.
They were not part of any consultation about global strategic policies. Few are heroes, even fewer are war criminals. The men and women who serve and have served have done so out of a sense of duty to their country’s elected government. We need to make amends for allowing their commendable dedication to be corrupted by politicians serving not nation but ruling class.
Yes, we should remember the war dead. But we should also, adapting the military parlance now in vogue, tell the living who still serve–we’ve got your six and we’re leaving no one behind. We will not rest until every last GI is removed from harm’s way by bringing them home where they belong–now.
And we should redouble efforts to win living veterans the care they were promised by those who sent them off to danger. The Veterans Administration has nine-hundred thousand unprocessed claims for benefits from those the war-makers like to describe as heroes. Shame is an inadequate adjective for such traitorous abandonment.
While I hope my venting may help remind us of the reality of war being buried under two-bit scandal mongering in the media, I don’t wish to completely spoil a well-earned holiday break for readers. We all need a little relief in times of crisis. After arranging a reliable cat-sitter, my wife Mary and I will be heading north to Ames, Iowa to celebrate the high school graduation of a daughter of good friends we have watched grow up. May you have as pleasant a weekend experience as we expect to have.
For Those Who Care…
If, as most scientists say, our most important knowledge is usually the result of failed experiments than the many hours I recently invested in a futile attempt to use new software for updating the kclabor.org website surely portends great success. I can now edit already existing web pages but still can’t upload new ones.
But I don’t want success to go to my head. Since I can’t afford the patience of youth I will forego further experiments for now and continue to add new material on the KC Labor WordPress site.
* The Washington Post reported, “Karen Lewis, the fiery leader of the Chicago Teachers Union who led a strike last year and became a nationally known anti-school reform figure, has been elected to another three-year term as president. Today she will lead the first of three days of protests against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to close 54 public schools.” Of course, the Lewis-led slate, who won about eighty percent of the vote, is not against all school reform–just those attacking public education. After the mass protests against closings failed to move the Mayor-controlled school board the issue has been taken to court.
* Regular readers have seen a lot in this column about the host of environmental threats from hydraulic fracturing–known as fracking–in gas extraction. Der Spiegel reports a new twist to this topic, “ The fight over fracking in Germany has taken an unexpected turn: German breweries are now warning that the controversial method of extracting natural gas from rock layers deep in the earth would affect their ability to brew the best beer. The process threatens to contaminate drinking water, according to a letter written by the German Brewers Federation to the federal government, and quoted by the mass daily tabloid Bild. Regulations controlling the brewing of beer in Germany date back to the beer purity law, or Reinheitsgebot, of 1516 — the world’s first food purity law. According to the Brewers Federation, German beer still may only be made from malt, hops, yeast and water.”
That’s all for this week.