Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember Americans who gave their lives in defense of their country. Ceremonies will be held at all national cemeteries, at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, flags will be prominently displayed and the president will give a speech honoring the fallen. All this pomp and attention is nothing more than sentimentality unless we truly remember what this day is and isn't about.
We should remember the over 5,000 Americans who lost their lives in two wars over the last decade which were immoral and unnecessary. As we wind down our involvement in Afghanistan, and acknowledge the disaster which was Iraq, we need to remember how jazzed, gung-ho, emotionally charged, Americans were to go to war after September 11, 2001. The country was jingoism central, egged on by a White House where the end justified the means, and we wanted a chance to get at those "rag-heads", "sand-niggers", "A-rabs" and get our pound of flesh. Voices of opposition, moderation, caution were drowned out by the martial music introductions of the latest on CNN and the corporate media and accused of being soft on terrorism, unpatriotic, traitors. Americans ignored the colossal incompetence in Afghanistan which allowed Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar to escape at Tora Bora. (Omar still alive and well and leading the Taliban and killing Americans)...ignored the fact Saddam Hussein and Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th (over 70% of Americans thought Hussein had a hand in the planning and execution of the attack at the time we invaded)...ignored the lies and propaganda from the White House and Congress (don't forget Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and John Kerry were among the Democrats who voted to go to war. What would President Hillary Clinton do today about Syria, Ukraine, Nigeria and China?)
Young Americans were used as cannon fodder for political gain. They were used to "force" democracy on the Middle East. They were sacrificed on the altar of political gain. In Afghanistan, they had their legs cut off as resources were diverted to prepare to invade Iraq while still fighting a war in Afghanistan. (at one point Special Forces troops who spoke local languages were sent to Iraq replaced by forces that spoke Spanish) In Iraq, despite testimony by the joint chiefs it would take as many as 500,000 troops to successfully invade and pacify the country, the war was conducted on the cheap. Calamitous decisions were made to disband the Iraqi army and to fail to impose security and civil order leaving an inadequate American force caught in the middle of a growing civil war. All of this based on lies emanating from the White House and amplified by a corporate media more interested in profit than truth. (does the name Judith Miller ring a bell?)
On this Memorial Day, it isn't enough to remember the dead...to put flags on their graves...to play TAPS and give 21 gun salutes if that is all we do. We need to remember. We need to refuse to be stampeded and act like sheep. We need to be much more cynical and realistic about the use of force and what it can and cannot accomplish.
President Obama is getting whipsawed in public opinion polls for not being tough enough in his foreign policy. Americans tell pollsters they want a more muscular president and don't like his over dependency on diplomacy. These same Americans are the ones who also say, by more than a 60% margin if the Wall Street Journal poll is to be believed, we should fix what needs to be fixed here at home and not get militarily involved in new foreign conflicts. So on Memorial Day which is it?
Should we send troops to Syria to depose the Assad regime? (there are reports they are still using chemical weapons to attack their people) Should NATO, which means us, station troops in Eastern Ukraine to oppose Russian forces? Should we somehow force Russia to give back Crimea? Should we be planning a military assault on Iran to stop their nuclear weapons production? What about American boots on the ground in Nigeria to rescue the kidnapped girls or as peacekeepers in Mali, South Sudan or Somalia? What about China? Should we be signing mutual defense pacts with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines or Taiwan promising to come to their aid, which means sending young Americans into harm's way, if they get into a conflict with China? Should we go to war to protect Israel? (Senator John McCain says if he were president he would have sent troops into Nigeria to find the girls whether the nations leaders agreed or not. Really?)
It is so easy to get into wars, but as we now know not very easy to end them Cindy Sheehan once asked President Bush why her son had to die in Iraq. (a nation falling apart at the seams as we speak) On Memorial Day do we have any better answers as to why Americans died in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada et.al.?
There are drums beating again in this country. Despite annual reminders on Memorial Days, Americans once again have forgotten the cost associated with foreign adventures. Obama is pilloried for not being tough enough. (which means being willing to sacrifice American lives) Yet, because of previous political/military failures, he commands a broken military with skyrocketing suicide rates, sexual assaults, and posttraumatic stress and, despite national rhetoric about honoring the nation's soldiers, a Veteran's Administration which can't meet the medical needs of those who have already served let alone those in the future.
Perhaps the best and most moral response we could make on Memorial Day is to remember not to treat the military like it’s a video game and protect those who serve their country. Perhaps our leaders might remember not to use American's soldiers to make political points or to rise in polls. Perhaps we need to decide which it is...fix what needs to be fixed at home and reduce a bloated military budget or police the rest of the world while everyone else sits back and watches. One thing is clear. We insult the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice if we don't learn from our mistakes and promise to be more careful in times to come.