So glad that Leah Bolger, who was on active duty in the U.S. Navy for 20 years, says what needs to be said so eloquently and succinctly. Thank you, thank you.
For many years, I’ve been embarrassed to be thought of as “an American,” and courted as a greedy “consumer” rather than an informed “citizen.” Ever since 9/11, and G.W. Bush’s admonition to “go shopping!,” and the collective denial that set in as to the horrific possible scenarios of what really happened on that day, my thoughts on being “an American” have taken a much darker turn. Now I see being “an American” as a kind of sick obscenity.
If only that were not so. I would love to love my country. And yet is there any nation state not tempted to the same kinds of territorial, resource and other power grabs, of fatuous self-aggrandizement, given the opportunity? That’s why I’d like to erase them all as artificial constructs upon the living face of our dear Mother Earth.
As astronauts recognize, when looking from space upon our planet:
“As I looked down, I saw a large river meandering slowly along for miles, passing from one country to another without stopping. I also saw huge forests, extending along several borders. And I watched the extent of one ocean touch the shores of separate continents. Two words leaped to mind as I looked down on all this: commonality and interdependence. We are one world.” –John-David Bartoe, astronaut
“The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth.” –Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud, astronaut
“From space I saw Earth — indescribably beautiful and with the scars of national boundaries gone.” –Muhammad Ahmad Faris, astronaut
May 25, 2012
by Leah Bolger
Memorial Day, originally known as “Decoration Day,” was created in the aftermath of the Civil War as a day to honor the memory and sacrifice of Union soldiers who had died in battle. It later broadened to include the theme of reconciliation, honoring Confederate soldiers as well; and through the years has become a day to remember all U.S. military personnel who have died in combat. Increasingly, it evolved from simply decorating the graves and solemn memorialization of those killed, to opportunities for flag-waving, nationalistic displays with parades, marching bands and political speeches. Today, it has become a perversion of its original intent in two ways.
Nearly all American holidays have been transformed from their original intents and into opportunities for economic profits, and Memorial Day is arguably the best example. Memorial Day has turned into Memorial Day weekend—a time for shopping, watching the Indianapolis 500, and kicking-off the summer.
Adding superficial, “patriotic” gimmickry to advertising must work because it is ubiquitous. In this ad,the images on the left are saluting with the wrong hand—but accuracy doesn’t matter as long as it’s red, white and blue; advertisers know what works with American consumers.
In another example of patriotic pandering, Heinz has outdone itself in their appreciation for veterans…nothing says “thank you” quite the way condiments do. The truly patriotic American will be using nothing but Heinz ketchup at their Memorial Day BBQ!
Perversion #2—American Exceptionalism
This perversion of Memorial Day is typified by the glorification of war and everyone who participated in it. God is always on our side (which means we are always right). Politicians try to outdo each other in their effusive thanks for the military, and refer to everyone who has ever worn a military uniform as a hero. God, guns and glory are wrapped up in the flag, and the whole package is given the credit for all that is good: liberty, freedom, justice, and the American Way of Life. Perversion #2 is of much more concern because of the ideology that it represents.
It is very dangerous when the people of a nation believes it can do no wrong; that it can operate outside of international law; and that God is on its side. Because when a nation is so confident in its righteousness, it loses any capacity for objectivity. On Memorial Day we remember the American war dead, but never question the necessity for the battle. We cannot bear to think that American lives lost in war might have been in vain, and so we continue to insist that we are on the side of right. We never second guess our country, because if we come to the realization that the war is wrong, for whatever reason, then we have to accept responsibility for all of those killed in our wars—not just our own. In the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan, that seems way outside the capacity of the American public, who are only now starting to question whether the sacrifice of more U.S. troops is “worth it.” We have not even thought to question whether the sacrifice of Iraqis and Afghans is worth it—more than 90% of whom were non-combatants. The media is starting to describe us as “war weary” but we haven’t the slightest clue.
On this Memorial Day, Veterans For Peace asks you to mourn not only for Americans killed in battle, but also for those killedbyAmericans in battle. We ask you to be willing to accept the fact that these war deaths did not have to happen—that theyareactually in vain. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died in American wars of aggression. That is a tragedy and is a truth that must be accepted and for which we must take responsibility.
Bio: Leah Bolger spent 20 years on active duty in the U.S. Navy and retired in 2000 at the rank of Commander. She is currently a full-time peace activist and serves as the National President of Veterans For Peace. firstname.lastname@example.org