I recall Bonhoeffer while in prison writing that, in his situation, there was very little he could do. “One can only,” he said, “tell the truth and say one’s prayers.” And then he went to die. That was his politics. He told the truth, he said his prayers, and he died.
~ Daniel Berrigan ~
I am a non-violent pacifist. For reasons that have been partially outlined elsewhere, this is primarily because I follow Jesus Christ. I think taking the life of another human being is always unjustifiable. It is always murder. That’s a loaded statement coming from a man who believes in very few (conscious) black and white absolutes.
This Memorial Day, I do indeed respect the decision of American soldiers who left their homes and their families, knowing full well they might never see them again. That is an extremely difficult and honorable decision to make. They believed God was on their side (I’m fairly convinced Jesus wasn’t). For these reasons, I can at least understand some of their thought process and respect their decision to sacrifice. I remember them and thank them for their courage, even if I cannot agree with their decision to potentially murder another human being. No ideological position is worth the forced sacrifice of a single human being.
At the same time, if this is the logic we use to honor these soldiers, we should also honor Nazi soldiers and every other soldier who has ever lived and died. Otherwise our remembrance is entirely arbitrary, inconsistent, narcissistic, and self-deluded. They were also products of their culture and their time, and they (probably) sincerely believed they were doing “right”, even though I’m sure all my readers can agree they were not. And yet, they believed God was on their side, if they believed in God at all. Let’s not be hypocritical and nationalistic in our honoring of soldiers. America’s military cause is no more justified than Nazi Germany’s. Both were/are fueled by ideological assumptions, paradigms, and worldviews that seek world domination through whatever means necessary. This is, of course, not to downplay the horrors of the Nazi regime. I am still highlighting those. However, I am also highlighting the horrors of the American empire. Both are Satanic: both treated their own (white male) people well, but the rest of the world as a rag doll.
I want to clarify what I mean by that. The individual people involved in the Satanic systems are not themselves to blame. They are products of socio-economic, cultural, ideological, psychological forces that stem back generations upon generations. I am not blaming American soldiers, nor am I blaming Nazi soldiers. In a very real sense, I believe, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is that whole, that system, that I think is Satanic. The zeitgeist, so to speak, of the nations. Not the people within it. As the adage goes, fish don’t realize they’re in water until they’re out.
That said…today is Memorial Day. So let us remember.
Let us remember the many women and non-white people who were denied the capacity to make that decision (even if it is one I would adamantly disagree with), as well as the many who were forced to make the decision, despite a wary conscience, via the draft.
Let us remember the sacrifice of soldiers in America who return to America. They are treated like nothing. Many are disregarded. I mean, if we want to celebrate Memorial Day with grilled hamburgers instead of visiting decaying, lonely veterans at a nursing home or a VA hospital, can we really call ourselves patriotic and reverent? When’s the last time we spent time with a limbless veteran outside of our immediate bloodline?
Let us remember the many returning soldiers who, although now living safely at home with their families, suffer as nightly casualties of war with their lifelong PTSD. As of 2010, it is estimated at least 30% of all U.S. veterans suffer from PTSD. However, that is only an estimate of those veterans who have been diagnosed. Many have not been diagnosed, due to the cultural stigmatization and training (which teaches the soldier that any form of weakness is a sort of sin) so adamantly instilled in the psyches of the soldiers. Many of these suffering soldiers either end up in prison for criminal activity (many times manifesting itself in racist crime) or committing suicide.
Let us remember the many conscientious objectors who, through an immense amount of courage and conviction, refused to fight in The Great War and WWII (as well as other wars). Who, because of their refusal to take the life of of another human being, were ostracized and marginalized by the majority of American society, given death threats, and very often abused/beaten up by the very soldiers who were supposedly fighting for freedom (purportedly including “freedom of speech.” Ironic, right?).
Let us remember the millions upon millions of civilian and soldier lives America as an empire has taken throughout the world. One need only venture outside a state sanctioned history textbook to realize America is a tyranny.
Let us remember the nation’s roots: genocide and slavery. The “freedoms” of today wouldn’t be possible without the slavery of yesterday (not to mention the many forms of slavery that still occur today). Why the hell do we have a day of remembrance dedicated to soldiers who kill in the name of liberty (an oxymoronic statement), but not in remembrance of the victims? What a backwards society.
Let us remember that America’s military industrial complex uses 1/4 the world’s oil per day, and this very statistic is part of the justification for continuing wars in the Middle East. It is a corrupt cycle: 1) In “fear of nuclear holocaust,” plant military bases around the world that depose the current government/citizen populace 2) Realize these things cost immense amounts of money and require an endless supply of oil 3) Plant more military bases in nations full of oil in order to maintain access to these oil reserves 4) Repeat.
Let us remember the many rape victims of American soldiers. America’s standing army which exists in 700+ military bases in over 130 countries in the world is responsible for a crazy amount of criminal activity. For example, Okinawa is a hot spot for the military industrial complex. There are many bases. 5,269 criminal cases were committed by U.S. military personnel in Okinawa between 1972 and 2003. The number includes 540 serious crimes and 977 cases of assault. I was not able to find an up to date statistic for the years 2004-2015.
Let us remember the innumerable victims of the contemporary American drone army. Who knows how many people the American military industrial complex has “justifiably” killed under the radar and noses of the American public.
Let us remember the many people who protested and are protesting wars led by America. They are continually imprisoned, threatened, sometimes killed (I would consider dying in an American prison a form of cruel and unusual punishment leading to death), and ostracized for trying to be democratic in a pseudo-democratic society.
Let us remember concrete examples of prophetic courage such as Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers, allowing the American public to know how corrupt the system truly was (and is), and helping fuel (ideally) peaceful protest against the Vietnam War.
Let us remember Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, who were killed for speaking out against the injustices of racism, which is inextricably tied into the injustices of war.
Let us remember the Ally led air raids of Japan, resulting in 900,000 civilian casualties, as well as the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which resulted in 160,000 civilian casualties. I have no words to express the sheer monstrosity of these fruitless death showers.
If we’re going to remember, let us remember in entirety. Let us not pick and choose so that we feel better and ease our guilty consciences as we sit in our economic superpower thriving on the injustices we consciously or unconsciously support.
Today is Memorial Day. So, please, for the love of God, humanity, and creation, let us reflect on our lives. Are they moving in the direction of peace and love?
“War is over if you want it.”
John Lennon and Yoko Ono