Across the country this memorial day, in parks and at parades, before sporting events and at graduation ceremonies, the hypocrisy of paunchy old men extolling the glories of warfare was on obscene display. And President Obama's performance at the Vietnam Memorial Wall was another pathetic case of pandering to an idiotic narrative of a military establishment bent on creating a state of permanent war.
A few crucial points must be reiterated:
The opposition to the Vietnam War was not some unfeeling hippies who disrespected the troops. By the 1970's, the heart and soul of the anti-war movement was the veterans and the active duty GI's. Slowly, over the years, the warmongers have tried to rewrite that history into a lie about the poor veteran and the unfeeling peaceniks. The researcher Jerry Lembcke, by the way, looked into every reported story of GI's being spat upon when arriving home and found not one single credible case. See his book The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam.
Nevertheless, while we in the anti-war movement love our veterans (certainly more than the Veteran's Administration which is criminal in its neglect and disgusting in its avoidance of diagnoses of PTSD) we cannot soften what they did (in Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan) with terms like "service." At its best, the Vietnam anti-war veterans were not just talking about how hard it was on them but they were coming to terms with the horrors of what they did over there. Yes, the ones who should be held accountable should be the top brass and the politicians. But everyone in this life has moral responsibility for his or her actions -- even if they are done under horrible circumstances. We certainly maintain that standard when considering German soldiers in World War II. Following orders is not a legal excuse. And certainly the lowest infantrymen should not be punished but they do have some moral reflection to do.
Which brings me to this horrid logic of the public discourse on war. Every politician, of any stripe, insists that they honor the soldiers for fighting. Honor them. Because they showed valor. And patriotism. Even when the war was wrong, dead wrong, we must honor their "service." What we get into here is a logical fallacy of death justifying death. Yes, the Iraq war was criminal, based on manufactured evidence, seeking the expansion of empire, creating an exponential increase in the number of terrorists, slaughtering 600,00 civilians, leading to 20 GI suicides a day, and wrecking the world economy. It has been an obscenity and the NATO-US war on Afghanistan is just an extension of the obscenity. Since no one any more can argue for these policies, they argue that we must honor the dead. They have done something marvelous, we are told. And those who were right, who opposed the war? Riffraff.
While we are looking at the big picture, let's admit that we have turned away from a universal or even selective draft system so that the war does not touch the privileged. The U.S. now sends its poor and working class youth to fight the wars so that life can go on in the privileged communities with no real pain or consequence. Young people rush to the military to escape the bloody streets of their communities, which are ravished by drugs, unemployment, and prisons. They are escaping an economy that has completely marginalized them and schools that are useless in solving their problems. They go to prison if they join gangs in their communities but are welcomed into the biggest and most violent gang of all, the U.S. military. Then they are held up as heroes by the very ones who put them in the predicament that got them killed.
This is the kind of death's head war culture we saw in the Roman legions in the last century of that empire. And it is the kind of mindless patriotism that has shamed and degraded our country.
Let us honor veterans by speaking the truth. They are tough enough to take it. And the veterans, who were tricked into fighting a criminal war by the lies of recruiters, deserve better than to be used once again as rallying points for the recruitment of new cannon fodder.