Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Memorial Day Lies

It was a gorgeous weekend.  Memorial Day.  Bratwursts on the grill, tractor pulling contests, marching bands, patriotic speeches, the beginning of summer.  Now we can all wear our white shoes again.  Life is good.

But something about official Memorial Day celebrations always makes me uneasy.  From Arlington National Cemetery to the Lake Park Bandshell in Winona, Minnesota the air and airwaves are bombarded by a jumble of grandiloquent discourse and rousing, flag-waving music--punctuated, but only occasionally--by sincerity, sorrow and genuine remembrance of real people.

The prevailing theme of the day is both trite and cruel:  Thank God for all those soldiers who died so that I can grill my bratwursts "in freedom."  In other words:  I feel a little guilty about never giving a rat's ass about anyone else, especially about "those" people down the street (is there some way we can get them deported?).  So, to assuage my conscience, I'll join in a nice little party to honor those poor bastards who had the bad luck to "give their lives for freedom."  I'm so glad it was them and not me.

God bless America.  Fourscore and seven years ago.  The land of the free and the home of the brave.  Life is good.

Well, not for those guys in the cemetery, of course.  Who were they again?  OK.  Let's try to remember.  They were good guys, all of them.  All of them went to war to make the world safe for bratwurst, American style.  All of them.  Yeah, even LeRoy and Jose, I suppose.

And think about all the noble causes they advanced:  they freed us from the tax-and-spend British; they emancipated the slaves; they liberated the Nazi concentration camps.  They did the Christian thing:  they laid down their lives for their friends (us).

Only, only, only.  Most of them DIDN'T.  Most of them had no desire or intent to lay down their lives for anyone, least of all us sons of bitches.  Probably most of them intensely disliked great numbers of people in their hometowns, just as intensely as those fellow citizens hated them.  And undoubtedly, most of them were in the army/navy/air force because they either HAD to be or because they needed the money.  Most likely they weren't our friends.  And even if they were, they didn't want to die for us. What a crock. 

Nor should we forget that our armies also fought to exterminate the Native Americans, defend slavery, build a colonial empire in the Philippines, prop up a corrupt government in Vietnam, ensure an unrestricted flow of oil from the Middle East, etc., etc.  

Let freedom ring.  Life is good. 

I hope you see that I'm NOT denigrating these "noble dead."  Rather, I'm criticizing the inauthenticity and the hypocrisy of the living--who lie to themselves and to each other in order to justify that which, in the end, is rarely justifiable. Soldiers die for all kinds of causes, most of them having nothing whatsoever to do with high ideals.  Once in a while, when the politicians themselves are high-minded, the wars they get us into are also, in some sense at least, "noble."  (I concur with Winston Churchill, for instance, that the American Civil War was "the noblest and least avoidable of all the great mass-conflicts of which till then there was record."  Probably a similar thumbs up could be given to World War II.)  But it's just disingenuous to assert that most soldiers died for "freedom" or for much of anything meaningful at all.

They died because of human greed, fear, incompetence, prejudice--and above all, because of human tribalism:  our way rather than your way.  The "freedom" that they fought for was, by and large, nothing more than the freedom to cook our brats OUR way.  Who cares if the Germans invented the damned things.

And now, what about "freedom fries"?  Down with the French!

Memorial Day, thus, often makes me sad.  I'm not really mourning the individual soldiers--that's hard to do unless one actually knew them.  Rather, I'm mourning the horrible LOSS, the horrible STUPIDITY, the horrible WASTE.  And my skin crawls as I listen to the sanctimonious, self-justifying speeches about how the noble dead did not die in vain.  Yada, yada, yada.  Pass the bratwurst.

Do we, the living, REALLY (to quote Lincoln) "highly resolve" to do anything at all?  If so, we should highly resolve to overcome tribalism and stop glorifying war.  Yes, by all means, let's try to remember why those poor bastards died:  they died because WE, the living, were too stupid to figure out how to keep them alive. They died and it's OUR fault. Shame on us.

LIFE is good, not death.  So can we please stop celebrating death on Memorial Day?

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