Memorial Day! What Does It Mean?

May 1, 2000

“Our moral integrity and political wisdom require that we study the past so as to prevent its indignities from recurring.”

–Klemens von Klemperer, Professor at Smith College,
Northampton, Mass., April 1985

“Whoever fears to look his own past in the face must necessarily fear what is to come.”

–Vaclav Havel, Czechoslovak President, 1990

“American historylessness is the desiccation of any sense of communal responsibility for the initiatives undertaken in our name. We exist outside history and outside the present world as well, in a kind of eerie detachment.”

–Lawrence Weschler, 1987

Memorial Day: The beginning of the commercial days of summer while planning holiday travel, or a time for reflection about why so many soldiers (and civilians alike), have given their lives in war? Years after returning from Vietnam, I wondered why more than 58,000 of my peers gave their lives in Southeast Asia, while killing more than 5 million Asians? Had these short-statured people living in ancient cultures 8,000 miles from our homes possessing virtually no military technology ever really threatened us? Were all those lives taken in vain?

Over the course of our history, about 1,145,000 U.S. mostly men have died after being ordered into battle. In the twentieth Century, it is believed that more than 100 million human beings, the majority civilians, have died in wars. And the wars continue!

When Civil War widows first decorated graves for their dead husbands in May 1866 it was considered a solemn moment. Well into the Twentieth Century, Memorial Day remained a special moment for reflection on the extraordinary number of human lives our country’s wars have permanently stolen from our families and communities. However, as the Century continued with ever more wars, it seems that it has become just another three day weekend to partake in holiday travel and the begining of summer shopping. Perhaps we have sunk into the dangerous comforts of denial and avoidance.

It has become increasingly obvious that our own civilization has become a spoiled rotten nation without a moral rudder. Historically it was built on theft of Indigenous land at gunpoint, stolen labor of kidnapped Africans, and on hundreds of illegal and unconstitutional military adventures expanding our original territory while seeking cheap foreign resources, labor and markets. We continue to have nearly a half million troops stationed at nearly 400 major installations in thirty five foreign countries with the most powerful air and naval forces to boot. We have covertly intervened thousands of times destabilizing dozens of countries while murdering millions of innocent people. We possess more nuclear, conventional, chemical, biological and other weapons of mass destruction, than the rest of the world combined. To the horror of the world we refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Our political plutocracy continues to be sold to the biggest bribers. Dramatic disparity of wealth and income separates the Haves from the Have-Nots. With but 4.5 percent of the world’s population, we consume nearly half the world’s resources while correspondingly spewing out the same percentage of the world’s pollution. From this extraordinarily consumptive western lifestyle, we are creating an ecologically mortal disaster. And as the 75% of the “Third World” are involuntarily squeezed with but 15% of the world’s resources, we send in the marines to secure “stability” when the poor revolt from their misery.

We spend more on military arms annually, (about $275 billion) than the rest of the U.N. Security Council combined. We control over fifty percent of the world’s arms market (more than the next 14 arms exporting nations combined) and provide military arms and training to 160 of the world’s 190 nations. It seems we strive to outdistance our own shadow in terms of military preparedness in a world with no other superpower. We are seriously pursuing a $60 billion missile defense shield that most experts conclude won’t work, though it will likely provoke a new arms race. The U.S. Space Command intends to militarily control space despite prohibitions by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

This is sheer madness! All this incredible security preparedness in order to maintain our selfish, disproportionate global privilege, even at the expense of the livability of our Earth, and of equal justice for all. Ironically, U.S. obsession with security has become, by far, the most dangerous threat to both our own and the world’s future!

As we decorate the graves on Memorial Day of those who fell in battle, I hope we have the courage to ask, why they fell!? Further, I pray that as we come to understand the history of lies and fabricated pretexts that our political leaders fed us to rationalize their wars, we will rise up to give birth to a genuine people’s democracy based on justice, honesty and respect for all life.

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