Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Times’

No More Veterans Days

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Here’s an idea: let’s drop Veterans Day.  And while we’re at it, let’s drop Memorial Day too.  I can think of a lot of other holidays we should cut, but let’s start with those two for now.

We’ll take the money saved from forgoing these days off (think of the regained productivity and tax revenue!) and put it toward better hospitals and programs for veterans.  Instead of wasting energy waving flags made in China, let’s see if we can actually help those to whom we supposedly feel so much gratitude.

And while we’re at it, let’s meditate on why we celebrated Veterans and Memorial Days in the first place.  Was it to honor soldiers who defended our freedom?  If that’s the case, think of most, perhaps all, of the wars this country has waged.  Did we need to slaughter over three million Vietnamese so you and I could vote, buy handguns, and download porn?  Which rights were defended when A-bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?  How did Mexico, Spain, North Korea, Granada, ad nauseam threaten our liberty?   Could it be that “rights” is just a codeword for imperialism and hegemony?  Is the issue “freedom” or “free markets”?  (Many Americans don’t know the difference.)  And let’s not forget the how the military has been used against Americans themselves, particularly, but not exclusively, the First Americans.

Why are soldiers so esteemed?  Because they serve the State.  Through intimidation and violence, they do its dirty work.  To the State, the soldier is the perfect citizen.  He puts following orders above basic self-interest (i.e., self-preservation).  There’s a reason there’s no “Organizer Day,” “Heretic Holiday,” or “Scientist Appreciation Week.”

But the fighting man isn’t an automaton.  No matter how much his mind is fucked with, he’s still making decisions.  As Joel Stein wrote in his infamous “Warriors and wusses” editorial

[B]laming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they’re following orders or not.  An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying. 

Remember what we said about “only following orders”?

Our soldiers, like all troops, were not, are not, and will never be angels.  The soldiers of yesterday, today, and tomorrow weren’t, aren’t, and will never be any more enlightened than the average schmuck.  Some soldiers are quite brave, and that’s admirable.  But bravery doesn’t equate to moral superiority.  Those who have fought and are fighting against American soldiers are also often very brave, regardless how you feel about their causes (or how you misunderstand them).  Frequently those who war against the U.S. are poorly equipped and trained.  It takes a lot of guts to go up against a military with nearly limitless resources.  And yes, that nod of respect extends to the Confederacy, the Axis forces, and al-Queda.

Bravery comes in many forms.  A worker organizing a union under the threat of the boss’ goons, a black woman sitting at a “Whites Only” lunch counter, or a writer defending a dangerously unpopular position can be just as lionhearted as an infantryman in combat.

Some soldiers aren’t especially brave, nor does their work demand bravery.  To paraphrase Ward Churchill, sometimes it’s pushing buttons in air-conditioned, sterile rooms, no different than playing videogames.  Even when they’re in combat, American soldiers enjoy overwhelming force over their enemies.  How is dropping bombs on civilians courageous?

Some soldiers are craven sadists.  Some just do it because it’s a job.  Because they were unlucky enough to get drafted.  Because bullying, raping, and killing is fun.

The fact is, Zell Miller’s remarks at the 2004 Republican Convention were pure bullshit. 

For it has been said so truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag who gives that protester the freedom to abuse and burn that flag.




No one gave us these rights.  The idea of someone bestowing a right is medieval.  The Founding Fathers saw rights “as inalienable.”  These freedoms are defended everyday when citizens—reporters, poets, agitators, and protesters—use them, particularly when they use them in ways that displease the majority.

Some might say that our soldiers fought against against Nazi Germany and imperial Japan to keep us free.  Similarly, they’d claim we engaged in proxy wars with the Soviet Union to perserve our liberty.  Again, bullshit.  None of those countries had any more hope, much less plans, to invade Main Street than Vietnam or Cambodia.  Did some good come of fighting the forces of totalitarianism?  Certainly, although I wonder if the fascist and Marxist juggernauts would’ve eventually imploded and collapsed on their own, weighed down by paranoia, xenophobia, and the expense of vast arsenals.  (Sound familiar?)

And today’s struggles against the insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan are no different.  I want to retch whenever I hear someone say “we’re got to fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.”  No, the violence we sow there we reap here.

The military doesn’t defend freedom; it threatens it.  Have you ever heard of an army used to encourage debate and dissent?  When it’s time to organize a coup d’etat, they don’t call up milkmen, sports writers, or bookkeepers.

“Support the troops.”  That’s another way saying don’t criticize them.  Why?  Through my tax dollars I pay them. Imagine a company where the boss can only praise his employees.  I want that job.  You’ll hear that protest is bad for the troops’ morale.  Excellent!  With enough rallies and demonstrations perhaps they’ll get really sad and desert.  Then we won’t have to pay for their idiotic crusades anymore.  “Support the troops” is another way of saying “Don’t question the State.”

When did soliders become faultless, selfless superheroes?  Are we engaged in an adult discourse or a Marvel comic?

I’ve never fought in a war and I don’t plan to.  At this point, I’m far too old for it anyway, thank God.  But let’s hear from an actual veteran.  Here’s Howard Zinn, historian and author of A People’s History of the United States:

Let’s go back to the beginning of Veterans Day. It used to be Armistice Day, because at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War I came to an end…  Veterans Day, instead of an occasion for denouncing war, has become an occasion for bringing out the flags, the uniforms, the martial music, the patriotic speeches…  Those who name holidays, playing on our genuine feeling for veterans, have turned a day that celebrated the end of a horror into a day to honor militarism.  As a combat veteran myself, of a “good war,” against fascism, I do not want the recognition of my service to be used as a glorification of war. Veterans Day should be an occasion for a national vow: No more war victims on the other side; no more war veterans on our side.


Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

We were pretty jazzed to find that the Los Angeles Times featured a brief review of Notes on Democracy: A New Edition on October 5.  Susan Salter Reynolds writes that Mencken’s tone “is beyond satire, almost caustic, like the guy at the bar who sidles up to you with bad news — the guy you can’t help thinking has a point.” We found her critique fair and positive. What more could one want? Check it out here.