Homily for the Slain
I believe this should be the last year we “celebrate” Memorial Day. Perhaps this may seem callous or uncaring especially coming from a veteran who served in war and suffered the deaths of friends and comrades, but it is exactly because of my service and my respect for the slain, and the living, that I make this request.
Those of us who have known war hear the cries of the dying forever echoing in our minds.Those of us who have known war hear the cries of the dying forever echoing in our minds. Neither we, nor their families, will ever forget them and need no holiday to remind us for we see their faces each night in our dreams. Clearly, then, Memorial Day,” or Memorial Weekend, is not for us, but for the 98% of the population who, in this era of the All Volunteer Military, are spared participating in what they allege is national defense. It is a reminder that “freedom is not free,” and of the price paid by other young men and women conscripted or deceived into believing that their nation’s very survival and freedom required that they fight, kill, and die, in its behalf.
But in reality, Memorial Day is a facade, a misrepresentation. Rather, it is the acknowledgment of the “unofficial start of summer” and a festival of consumerism and greed. Perhaps most regrettably, it is a celebration of faux patriotism and militarism that exploits the sacrifices of the slain to perpetuate the mythology that misrepresents the savagery and insanity of war, even unnecessary and immoral war, as heroism and nobility.
And between the barbecues and trips to the mall, those untouched by war fulfill their patriotic duty by displaying flags, uttering hackneyed slogans, sharing a collective orgasm over the hi-tech weapons of death and destruction on display at a Holiday airshow, and applaud “sympathetically” as a high school marching band and several aging veterans in torn and tattered military uniforms march pitifully in a parade of their own creation.
This mythology that Memorial Day perpetuates is insidious, as it serves neither the interest of this nation, its citizenry, nor, most of all, members of the military, veterans, and the families of those injured and killed. First, and foremost, it provides an escape whereby war’s victims may avoid facing the reality of the experience, a task that is crucial if some semblance of normalcy in their lives is to be achieved. Second, it makes honest and critical conversations about American foreign policy less likely. Third, by according members of the military and veterans hero status, it becomes understandable and reasonable why many veterans and civilians alike so enthusiastically support sending our military to faraway battlefields to “quell” what in many cases are manufactured crises. Fourth, such mythology serves as a propaganda tool and an asset to maintaining public support for endless war, and to entice the next generation of cannon fodder into military “service”. Fifth, cheering, applauding, and expressing faux gratitude and support masks the reality of the scandalous way in which this nation ignores veterans needs – the high rates of unemployment, PTSD, moral injury, homelessness, addiction, and suicide. The mythology perpetuated at Memorial Day benefits no one in this nation other than the militarists and war profiteers.
I will treat this Memorial Day weekend as any other grieving the loss of comrades and of my innocence remembering that I am both victim and victimizer. I will not avail myself of the many Memorial Day sales as I will not support the exploitation and commercialization of the memory of the fallen to enhance consumerism and profit.
Nor will I attend or march in a parade as parades accomplish nothing save to allow those who make or ignore war to feign support and appreciation for its victims and to relieve their collective guilt for crimes against humanity. Marching in a parade honors no one nor does it educate or inform about the realities of war. Rather it perpetuates the mythology of honor and glory and “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”
Instead, I will spend this weekend remembering what I and so many veterans, living and dead, have suffered and the suffering we have caused others.
I will spend this weekend grieving the loss of comrades and of my innocence.
I will spend this weekend in meditation confronting the realization that sometimes death in war is liberation and those who die more fortunate than we who are condemned to survive as penance for the sacrilege of war.