Today, in the United States, every back yard has a barbecue going. Most of these have the stars and strips flying as well. My email inbox is full of items with titles like “Remembering the Heroes who Fight to Save Our Freedom.”
The one I agree with is from Code Pink. They don’t glorify anything military but manage to have a humane attitude towards the people in “our” military and those outside it too:
On Memorial Day, we honor the memory of millions who have died due to war. The civilians and soldiers who have been bombed, or shot, or stepped on cluster bombs and landmines. All the families and friends who have lost people they love because of war, violence and aggression.
For the record, I don’t think our military is protecting our freedom. The little freedom left in this country is better protected by the ACLU. I don’t want to make this a soapbox. But there is so much psychic noise about this holiday that I must raise my voice a bit to keep sane.
I just read The Non-Combatant by Larry Banner. “A Vietnam veteran, Larry’s experiences were quite different than most of the stories that have been told about that disastrous war. His experiences in Saigon at the height of the war were often times amusing.” I was shocked to read that the big oil companies paid the Viet Cong to not bomb or attack their property. So the Viet Cong had oil money with which to purchase ammunition they used against our soldiers. I already knew everything was a farce but I was still deeply shocked by this information. A penny-antsy charity is called “terrorist” when it gives any money to a hostile organization in the Middle East, yet these mega corporate oil companies are paying the “enemy” big time and they have a free pass. Kind of makes the whole war a big farce. A show. But a show in which real people die. Fighting for our “freedom” or for a big reality show?
I went to the public schools as a child. I was taught a lot that I came to consider false. When Mai Lai occurred, I was genuinely shocked. I looked around the classroom at the boys there and tried to imagine them as the “monsters” I had been hearing about in the news, people who did things I had been taught to believe only the bad guys were capable of.
Not that I was super naive as a child. I had always seen through some things. I was a natural skeptic even about things that turned out to be true. For example, I was told that I lived in the biggest city in the world and we had the tallest skyscraper in the world. I thought, “I’ll bet everyone says that about their city.” But I was wrong. New York was the biggest city and the Empire State Building was the tallest. But this is the caution with which I approached everything adults told me. I could just smell the hypocrisy in the air. The story that gagged me the most was The Man Without a Country. Not only did they tell us this story in school, but they dramatized it on TV. Even as a small child, I noticed the disconnect between the boasts that we live in a country of free speech and the fact that someone should be punished so badly just for saying, “I wish I never heard of the United States again.” It was clearly an ejaculation of anger, not a long-considered position. And it was his speech, not a crime. Unless we have thought-crime in this country after all. Furthermore, pretending exile on a ship where he couldn’t even access a newspaper that wasn’t all cut up was in any way honoring his expressed wish. My hostility to American patriotism probably started at that point.
Since then, I have learned a lot, or rather unlearned many myths imparted to me by my “educators.” I learned that the country is run by the wealthy elite. I learned that foreign policy is in their interests. The wars we fight are not to protect our freedom. They are to maximize profits. I have read the book, Prairie Fire, written by the Weather Underground. Sure, I have embraced a gamut of different political ideologies. I was a Goldwater conservative, for goodness sake. But, having been all over the political map, I have decided the revolutionary anti-imperialist ideology is the most righteous. I also admit I am too selfish to have really devoted myself to that cause in a steady sustained manner. I don’t care enough about oppressed people in distant lands to really live that sacrificially. But I do admire those who do. Now, my biggest issue is saving Social Security which seems to be under constant threat. I want social justice but, most of all, I want to be able to enjoy my “golden years” in peace and comfort.
Still, I have a deep aversion to nationalism, at least the nationalism of my own country. It’s not that strange when I realize that many Germans have the same aversion having lived through the Third Reich. A beloved professor of German once said, “When I see a flag, I want to spit.” Well, I’m not trying to start World War III on the internet. Just setting the record straight.
A final thought. If we honor our servicemen (and women) so much, why are so many veterans still homeless. I find that truly shocking. When I was a child, the only homeless people were hard core alcoholics and we called them “bums,” not “homeless.” Now regular people are homeless and nobody seems to care. This doesn’t go along with the morality I was taught that our society stands for. As Judge Judy would say, “Baloney!”