Memorial Day: The Good and The Bad

I grew up in a family environment that held the military in high regard. Both my grandfathers earned purple hearts in WWII and my father’s father served as in officer both in WWII and Vietnam. My father attended and graduated from The Virginia Military Institute (where he was a legacy to his father) though he never served in the military due to incurring a knee injury playing for VMI’s basketball team (this was pre reconstructive knee surgery days).

I have many memories concerning national holidays and hearing stories from my mother’s father about his experience in the Pacific during WWII (My father’s father passed away when I was very young). One memory that I particularly remember took place during a national holiday (either the Fourth of July or Memorial Day). My family was together and myself and the other young kids where running around waving those small American flags on wooden sticks. I had always been raised to respect the American flag and I knew that it was never to touch the ground. However, this rule has been cemented in my mind due to what happened to me that day.

As I was saying, myself and my siblings and cousins where running around and waving those little American flags. Being the youngest of the lot it is no surprise that I tripped trying to keep up with my older brother and sister and cousins. As I tripped the small stick that the American flag was attached to poked me in the eye. It was nothing serious but it hurt like the dickens so I started to cry as I lay on the ground.

The reason this story is so vivid in my memory is because of the way my father’s mother reacted to my fall. Like any young boy (probably 7 or 8) I expected my grandmother to come over, pick me up, and comfort me. Instead, she ran over and hollered for me to pick up the American flag because I had dropped it to the ground. From that point on I realized the level of intensity that rule carried in my family.

I say all of this by way of introduction to today’s post because I want to make sure all the readers understand both my respect for and heritage in the military. That being said, I do plan to take a somewhat critical stance towards certain aspects of America’s current glorification of our military. Furthermore, in the areas of critique, I have no intention of offering criticism to those individuals who are currently serving but instead to the mindless praise offered toward the stance of American imperialism held by many people in our nation.

In our day and age we often celebrate our current servicemen on national holidays as “protectors of freedom”. Increasingly I have questioned the validity of this statement. From the perspective of an uninformed layman such as myself, it seems that much of the deployment and actions of the current US military is occupational rather than serving to protect American freedom. I cannot perceive any viable military threat to the freedom’s of the American populace that has taken a visible military action that our current servicemen are fighting against.

The usual response to a statement like the one I just made often begets some comment about terrorism being a threat to American freedoms. While it is true that terrorism can be a threat to American freedoms it is not true that American interventionism and occupation overseas is a deterrent to terrorist activity. In fact, many believe that American interventionism serves as a catalyst for reactionary terrorist activity. Moreover, there are thousands of active servicemen stationed in US military bases worldwide whose existence (the military bases) cannot be defended by the existence of a threat to American freedoms. In addition to this, our military leaders and government seem  hell bent on manufacturing a wartime mentality since the days post WWII. This allows them to maintain a WWII sized military in peacetime because according to them we are not in “peacetime”.

The last few paragraphs have briefly listed my grievances toward to stance of our military by our governing officials. I would now like to turn my criticism toward the US populace who, in large part, celebrate a warmongering, militaristic attitude through the celebration of current servicemen. This criticism should in no way be understood that our current servicemen should not be celebrated. Conflict in battle is an unimaginably difficult thing to endure. Regardless of one’s stance toward the militaristic escapades our military leaders are currently carrying out, I would argue that those in service should be held in esteem for what they have endured (obviously excluding those servicemen and women who have brought untold shame upon themselves through their unethical actions on duty).

My critique lies in the celebration of the idea of war. I would both hope and expect that many of our current servicemen would much prefer peace to conflict, home to deployment, and groceries to guns. Unfortunately, many Americans, whose closest interaction with battle is Halo or Call of Duty video games, treat battle like a game and militaristic American imperialism as a positive international relations campaign. I can assure you that those men and women who have served in places like Afghanistan and Iraq can tell you that battle is hell; it is nothing like Halo or Call of Duty. There is no re-spawn point and you don’t have to get shot 5 times before your “HP” level begins to fall. While battle can be grounds and circumstances for heroic actions, battle in and of itself should never be gloried in or celebrated.

The worst part about this celebration and glorification of way can be encapsulated in the hashtag mentality. As a culture, we have begone to approach any cause, memorial, etc. with the hastag mentality. Unfortunately the hashtag mentality is much like the liberal mentality when it comes to welfare. Liberal welfare policy plays on the conscience in two ways. First, it attempts to guilt the populace, then it attempts to assuage guilt when implemented. The hashtag mentality is quite similar in the since that individuals feel that their recognition of anything on social media is equivalent to a true concern for or about a cause or memorial. It is shallow and often entirely uninformed.

What makes this entire situation very unfortunate is the true glory of national holidays like memorial day. The commercialization and consumerization of such events have in large part emptied them of their glory. Days like Memorial day and the Fourth of July should be celebrated with depth and thought about what it is we are actually celebrating and not simply a regurgitation of the sentiments laid out in the most recent Budweiser commercial.

In conclusion I do hope that you have not misread this critique as an all out assault against members of our military or anti-American. Instead I hope to encourage a more thoroughly though out approach to patriotism, particularly as it applies with our often flippant attitude toward war and militarism. Patriotism and militarism are not synonymous and we could do with some more constructive conversation on this front. I hope this post serves to be constructive.

Food for thought.

Michael

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