That’s why no matter how against unilateral unprovoked military invasions of other countries I am, I still feel a deep sense of respect and admiration and appreciation for the soldiers who get called into active duty and risk their very lives to do so. It is why on Memorial Day I don’t feel too much like celebrating or barbequing or sunbathing. And it’s why I don’t say things like “Happy Memorial Day” or “Have a great Memorial day Weekend”. Perhaps if we spent less time vacationing and partying and going to the beach during these three days, and more time memorializing all our dead and contemplating why they’re dead, maybe we’d figure out a way to stop any more from dying, and maybe we’d figure out a way to stop our government from going to war whenever they want to whether we the people want them to or not. It may sound far fetched. But we have to at least try.
Why Memorial Day is Not a Holiday
Today is Memorial Day. I know this because the local and national news is all abuzz this weekend about it. It’s turned into one of the most popular holidays of the year for most Americans. Photographs and video footage of sun bathers and suburban family barbeques abound and for days we’ve been bombarded by traffic updates and weather predictions. Every now and then someone might make mention of “our brave men and women in uniform”, but for the most part we hear about the great relief it is to Americans coast to coast to have finally made it yet again to this most coveted three day weekend.
Like many Americans I grew up not knowing what a Memorial Day was. I didn’t actually learn the true meaning of “Memorial Day” until I was well into my late twenties. And quite by accident. But I’ll never forget the day that I did finally discover its meaning. The holiday magically appeared out of nowhere as it always did. I wasn’t prepared for it, not ever having children nor “a normal job” and thus never needing to know when “three-day weekends” arise in our shared annual calendar. It wasn’t until I woke up that morning that I discovered that it was Memorial Day. Sure I’d celebrated plenty of Memorial Day weekends with the fam and various groups of friends through the years. But frankly I always got all those three day weekends confused, they always took me by surprise, and frankly I never saw much reason in fixing that. President’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Labor Day. They came and went, all anonymously blended into the social fabric of the plebeian mainstream society I was trying desperately not to fit into since I could remember.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but three day weekends were three day weekends at best and that was that. Excuses to get out of school when we were younger. And after that, well, most of the time I usually missed them entirely. Rockers, artists, entertainers live in worlds that are so isolated, unique and far removed from normal that most people I have known throughout my life think I’m joking when I tell them things like that. I first started to encounter the odd looks and laughs regarding how alien our lifestyle was at some point during the college years. Someone in the normal world would ask “Hey man what are you doing for Memorial Day Weekend?” To which I’d reply “Oh yeah? When’s that?”
I must confess that I still don’t actually know “when” Memorial Day weekend is. I just happen to know that it’s “this” weekend. And for the others… Forget about it. People say “you can’t wear white after Labor Day”, which in itself is a helpful tip surely. Except one has to know when Labor Day is to make use of it. And I haven’t got a clue. St. Patrick’s Day is another one. You figure those are the kinds of things people learn when they get old and have nothing better to do. When you’re riding the beast, living full tilt, surfing in the zone and making the most out of each moment you’re alive, why the fuck would you care when these silly holidays for the masses are? Now that’s just some hardcore truth flying out of the mouth of babes there. And perhaps I’m as innocent in my lack of understanding the importance people attach to these holidays as I am ignorant about it. But truth be told it’s not like I’m ever going to head out to some barbeque to drink a few beers and talk baseball with the guys while the ladies do whatever ladies do at such things any time soon in this life just because “it’s a three day weekend”. It’s just not the kind of life we live in the world of art and entertainment.
But on said day, in late twenties as mentioned before, I woke up to discover that it was indeed one of those “Memorial Days”, I hadn’t missed it, and lo and behold I actually felt a desire to do something about it. I didn’t know what it was exactly, but I was curious as to what people did on these days. So I rang Ferret. As usual he wasn’t doing anything. Just sitting around watching TV and playing his drums. I cruised over to his house on the premise that we would eventually “do something”. When I walked in I made myself comfortable and proceeded to just sit and watch the TV that he had on. I I didn’t actually have TV. I hadn’t had what people call TV since I had left home for college ten years earlier. Like I said, it was a different world we lived in. Out of the loop would be an understatement if attempting to describe the kind of lifestyle we lived. The first thing I noticed was that the television was filled with images of old men in military uniforms at what appeared to be special public galas. Even the president was at some of them.
I remember getting a real palpable feeling of emotion starting to swell up inside of me. I was feeling surprisingly moved and patriotic. After a thirty minutes or so Ferret started complaining. “Come on man, turn this shit off. Fuck! Why do you always want to watch this serious crap?!” But I was deeply engrossed in what I was seeing and hearing. It turned out that Memorial Day was a serious holiday, if that’s what you want to call it. I wouldn’t. It’s more of a day of mourning and remembrance for our military soldiers who have died in battle. And there’s a truckload of them. More than a million. Unfortunately most people don’t treat it that way these days. Which is odd. And sad. Considering that our country is currently at war right now in at least four different countries overseas. But times have changed a lot since the days of 1868 when the Day was first created. Back then people went to the grave sites of loved ones who died in battle to lay down flowers to honor and remember them. Solemn would be the word I would choose to describe the occasion. Heartbreaking would be another. I was forever changed from that day with Ferret. He never quite got into it the way I did, but after a few more shows about it, even he started to feel the patriotic bug. At least in the moment.
Ever since that moment of learning what it was all about, I have had a tough time with Memorial Day. It originated during the Civil War. A way to honor men we’d lost on both sides. But the tradition continued. The United States has started or participated in over fifty additional wars, battles or military operations since the Civil War. In total over 1,400,000 men and women have been killed. Another 1,500,000 have been maimed, wounded or seriously injured. That’s almost three-million Americans killed or injured. Celebrating the lives and deaths of our men and women in the military who served in World War I or II seems a no-brainer. It feels obligatory if you live and love here. And downright blasphemous if you don’t do it in some way. The problem is what happened before and after. That’s when it gets tricky.
Truth is I never gave much attention to thinking about things like wars or the military. Even though I grew up in a military family on my father’s side, i.e. my father, grandfather, and great grandfather all served in the military and fought in at least one war, I always leaned towards music and the arts since I was born. The family’s dark horse. Through the combination of influences from the world of music and the world of arts and letters, I got the peace bug at an early age. Between Thoreau, Bob Dylan and John Lennon my fate as a peacenik was pretty much sealed before I could walk. The older I got, the closer it came to my time to register for selective service. For years I resisted. Just didn’t do it. Swore I would never. And that worked for a long time. I wasn’t raised in the post World War II generation. I was raised in the post Vietnam War generation. And if there was one thing that separated our generations fundamentally, it was what we learned about the United States and war.
Unlike our parents and grandparents, we were taught that the United States government was a greedy imperialist invading nation. Had been ever since our victory in World War II. Something went wrong in our hearts and minds. President Eisenhower, a war General himself, even warned us about it in his farewell speech. Told us that we were in jeopardy of losing control of the country to a giant conglomerate of money and power hungry weapons manufacturers and a blood thirsty military. [the origin of the term “military industrial complex”] That together they were starting to seize control of the mechanisms that run our very government.
Of course this is all old news to most. Yet one gets the feeling that people still don’t realize how far gone it is. A few do. But most still seem to be drinking the Kool-Aid. The Vietnam War was a symptomatic evolution of Eisenhower’s warning. The people of the United States were brought into it based on a piggish greed by a select few who we as a people will probably never know, the entire war based on lies and false pretenses. In the twenty plus years the US government and military either openly or secretly fought that war, despite mass protests by the American people, they killed millions and millions of innocent people in countries that most Americans had never even heard of. They also tragically were responsible for the deaths and wounding of over 200,000 young Americans. Young Americans we will never see again and can never get back.
On and on it went. Right up into the present day. One country after another invaded or bombed or both if they didn’t agree to play ball with the big bad nuclear bomb dropping United States of America. The largest global protests and demonstrations in human history took place in the year 2003. All over the earth Countries of all faiths backgrounds races and nationalities came together in solidarity to accomplish one thing: try to stop the United States government, then under the leadership of the Cheney/Bush regime, from viciously invading the small country of Iraq. But to no avail. The country was attacked, over a million people killed in total, the government was overthrown and an American-friendly government was installed. A system that has continued to be repeated time and time again since the 1940s. U.S. troops are still there and will be for years to come.
The same is unfortunately true for Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Yemen. Not to mention covert opps that are happening all over the globe without the knowledge of the American people yet. My friends and I have personally lost a few buddies from high school and college who were fighting over in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a hard pill to swallow. Especially when thinking of their parents and wives and children. I’ve got a few friends and family members who are in both countries now. One of them confided in me a few months ago that he felt disgusted doing what they’re doing over there. That many of them do. When I asked him what they’re doing, he told me “building oil wells or pipelines. Military bases over oil wells and pipelines running from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf. That’s our main job. Build them and keep the people away from them.” Of course I knew this was true. We all did. But thinking it’s true is different than hearing it’s true firsthand from someone who’s over there doing it.
In days gone by it was easy to honor our military and the men who led them. When we think of the Revolutionary War. we think of the so-called Founding Fathers, courageous visionaries who led brave men into battle to fight for our freedom against tyranny. In most of the wars the United States has fought since World War II, we’ve been the tyranny, and the enemies have been the brave men and women fighting for their freedom. We call the people we shoot at and bomb “insurgents” and yet the people we shoot at and bomb call us the “insurgents”. It’s a contradiction we have to live with everyday as American citizens. Made all the more painful, like an infection that is only getting worse, every time we hear of yet another soldier killed. Made even worse when we hear politicians who have never fought in a war and never plan to talk openly about their potential plans to invade or attack yet another country for one reason or another. They talk a good talk. But they won’t be doing any fighting or seeing any battles. They’ll send young kids over to do it for them. And if they die, “well, that’s the breaks. You should have kept your kids out of the military like I did,” you can hear Mitt Romney saying. “My kids are helping serve their country by helping get me elected as president,” he said. That’s a direct quote. Eisenhower is probably doing 360s in his grave.
Like I said, Memorial Day is a tough one. On the one hand, we are trapped in a country with a government addicted to starting wars with other countries and we can’t do anything about it. On the other hand, as compassionate people we feel a deep sense of loss for our fellow brothers and sisters who have been killed in these wars. We don’t blame them. How can we? They don’t knowingly march off to war knowing these things. I’ve never met one who has. If they knew these things they wouldn’t be marching off to war. For if there’s one thing we can honestly say about American soldiers in the military it’s that they’re some of the most patriotic people in the country. They truly believe they are serving the best interests of their country and their fellow citizens, fighting heroically for freedom and democracy and liberty. It’s only after they get there, some of them, that they begin to see the bigger picture. After that, either blood-lust or insanity over takes them. Or they simply never bother to put the pieces together, instead they just follow orders from the next up in the chain of command. But these are the innocents. They may be responsible for killing other innocents in far away countries the United States has no business being in, but they’re just as innocent as the people they’re killing.
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