Happy Veteran’s Day.
Happy Remembrance Day.
Red Poppies, flags waving, pomp and ceremony to revere the sacrifices of men and women who fought and died, and those who fought and carried home visible and invisible scars wrought by man’s inhumanity to man.
I suppose today I go against the grain in some respects. I recognize that I could lose friends over this. So be it.
I recently read an article by an elderly, thoughtful Englishman who had much to say on the topic, especially regarding the purpose of those who lead the ceremonies and celebrations of the soldiers of nations, whether American or British, so often now found fighting side by side wherever the quest for empire takes us.
First off, don’t get me wrong. I have deep respect for those who have served and given part of their lives, or their whole lives, to the military life. It is not an easy life, and when you’re deployed, you go with the full knowledge that your superiors are sending you to a place where other people specifically will try to kill you if given half the chance.
I believe that most of those who serve do so in service to the idea of a free America. I do.
I also believe that these young people are exploited by our government and the corporate interests that for decades have driven our foreign and domestic policy and have driven our population into a veritable master/slave economy where the concept of Liberty and Justice for All has been relegated to propaganda to feed to the proles (that’s you and me) to prevent us for looking up and noticing just how deeply our personal freedoms have been violated.
I would assert that every drop of American blood that has been shed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere for the past 65 years (all post-WWII conflicts, basically) has been shed in the name of Western Economic Imperialism.
When I honor and mourn the fallen, it’s not because they have fought for our continued freedom. I’m sorry, it’s not. It’s because they have been exploited through their love for their nation and their belief in its stated ideals. Their lives have been wasted to promote our corporate greed and American egoism. Old, wealthy men sit in richly furnished rooms and send young men to their deaths to protect the interests of our largest corporations, especially the petroleum companies. They don’t only benefit from the loss of these young lives, but they siphon off billions in taxes that should go to help these veterans in the name of corporate welfare and the bleak illusion of “trickle-down” economics, which most of us know is a sham that should be obliterated from the face of economic policy forever.
Our soldiers aren’t preserving the land of the free anymore. They are preserving the plutocracy that spends their lives while oppressing the poor here at home. They are protecting the interests of the wealthy who manipulate the government to enrich themselves at the cost of the middle class.
None of this detracts from the commitment and dedication of those who serve, but is meant as an indictment on those who exploit these servicemen to their own greedy ends.
I’m tired of seeing young men sent to die in old mens’ wars. I’m sick of pictures of flag-draped caskets mourned over by young wives with toddlers in tow.
Not to mention that for every flag-draped casket we bring home, the caskets of 50-100 innocents are carried through the streets and buried back overseas, victims of our war on terror.
I’m sick of our nation’s fetish for military might and marshal superiority. I’m sick of the glorification of violence as a means to another self-centered end. I’m sick of the rank conceit that what America thinks is best is therefore simply best.
If we are the greatest country in the world, we should start acting like it. Enough with killing people to fix things.
My perfect Veterans Day would be a cease and desist to all foreign military conflict. It’s not a realistic view, of course, because so much of the world is committed to killing as the primary means of preserving a nation’s interests, and we’re so much better at it than most. But an end to imperial excuses for military action would be a bit of a start.
You can’t kill people and claim to be pursuing peace.
Therefore honor our veterans, both living and scarred and fallen and lost, but honor not the system that sent them to suffer and to die.
Honor them in the hope that somehow, they will be the last.
This was a good write up; I was surprised to reach the end and see no comments. I apologize for the length of this one.
Let me confess that I am a combat veteran with two tours in Iraq, when we initially invaded in 2003 and again in 2005. I never once thought that I was fighting for American Freedom or in preservation of the United States Constitution or our “ideals.” Afghanistan may be a different story on that note, although vengeance or punishment may be better suited terms… either way, I don’t intend to argue over it.
I agree with most of what you’ve written. I would go further to say that all Americans are exploited to some degree by this ruling class of old men. I would also say that patriotism wasn’t the only reason for my enlistment and may not have even been the biggest.
Adventure was one, and the idea of a huge personal test (test of courage, duty, honor, endurance and toughness, etc) is always on my mind, the appeal of camaraderie and excitement were all among the motives I had.
While I knew I’d likely be in position where I’d have to kill, I can honestly say that I had no desire to kill another, although I didn’t wrestle with doing so when that time came.
Military service is taxing. Service members relinquish several freedoms and liberties when they join. They spend lots of time away from their families, and the combat troops, at least, must endure sleep depravity, hunger, thirst, exposure, loss, horrific images, and on and on, so I appreciate your recognition of such and the respect you’ve shown for it.
I did everything over there with my buddies in mind – not so much the flag or the USA or the orders or mission, but with the idea that I must do all that I can in order to raise the chances of my friends‘ survival. For me, we became a family; these men and I. I can get very hokey and sappy telling about it, but I think it’s not hard to imagine what I’m talking about.
To veterans like myself, the flag comes to represent those friends and trials, the ideals that are romanticized through accounts of our founding fathers, the pioneers and war heroes. But I also recognize that for some it’s hard to separate the flag from the current politicians or national policies, and that not every soldier or marine are heroes. I get ill because “hero” is thrown out all too liberally now. Not all soldiers had pure or idealistic motives.
Veterans Day is a special day to me now, though. The memories, the lessons I learned and experiences I had. The first hand knowledge of what those before and after me endured. There is only reality in war – nothing trivial or pretentious. Pop culture and 1st world luxuries don’t matter and do not count. There is something intoxicating about war, about the intense closeness and camaraderie that comes with it, the extreme sense of purpose and then that positive combat stress where you feel a noticeable enhancement to all your senses. Sometimes I think explaining this give the wrong idea to those who haven’t been there, almost like a sphere is incomprehensible to a stickman, who exists only in a 2D world and can’t fathom anything more than a circle…
I went because of the politicians and whomever it was pulling the strings or standing behind the curtain, but I fought for other reasons. I saw valor and cowardice. Love and hate. The separation from loved ones. Human bodies mangles and destroyed in ways you likely couldn’t imagine. The smells of death and gunpowder. The sounds of war; the gunfire, explosions, tanks and helicopters… and then there were some peaceful moments… a clear sunrise or sunset. Seeing foreign nations and a common thread in all people, with ancient pedigrees, the Tigris and Euphrates…
Despite all of its horrors and problems, I wouldn’t have traded that time for anything. I’d go back if I could, which may sound crazy. I am not a warmonger. I do not lust for blood. I do not want my sons in such a place.
I think that war and violence, like most things, are too complicated to be placed either in “right” or “wrong.” Like most things they often have elements of each. We are natural, physical beings – I think violence will always be a part of us. And while I prefer peace, I do not think that violence never has a place – as a perfect world is a fantasy.
I even think that most politicians are compelled by both some type of personal gain along with a true sense of national interest. Yen and yang, I guess.
Good write up.
Thank you so much for your comment and your compliment. I was most moved by this comment:
**but with the idea that I must do all that I can in order to raise the chances of my friends‘ survival.**
I very much appreciate what that means, but I also appreciate that I cannot truly understand the depth of that connection, having never been in such a live or die situation.
It will never cease to pain me that we send good-hearted people like you to kill and maim in the name of interests of those old men. I really appreciate your candor and honesty in your point of view.
I truly hope you’re wrong about violence and the idea that it’s a permanent feature of humanity, something we will never outgrow. At the same time I fear you may be right.
I will never stop appreciating our war veterans, but I will never stop opposing making new ones.
Thanks again for your viewpoint. I too was disappointed to never get a comment on this piece. I’m passionate about life, because I strongly believe this is the only single life we’ll ever have, that there is no hereafter, and I see no point in sending people off to end theirs to support the base desires those who will almost never face such risk. It’s very nice to get the perspective of one who was sent, who came back, and who can see the grey amidst all the black and white with which guys like me try to paint the world.
It’s a topic i think on often. Still trying to sort it all out. I value differing opinions and view points, but you and aren’t that far apart.