Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Memorial Day

I've always had mixed feelings about Memorial Day. It's hard to imagine just how much worse our world would be if it wasn't for the United States military, Franklin Roosevelt and to a lesser extent, Harry Truman. Unlike most of the people I know who share my left wing political philosophy, I don't have anything against the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I think those attacks preferable to an invasion of Japan...and as for those who argue that a negotiated peace, with the Emperor preserved on the throne of Japan, with his imperial powers intact, well they are just plain naive as to the true nature of Japanese militarism.
But, I also think that our success in World War 2 has left far too many people in the United States thinking that wars are won on the battlefield, that the enemy surrenders to our will, and that all of our actions are true and just. War just isn't that simple. When I was a child, our high school history teacher taught us that in World War 1, our brave soldiers ended, at least for a couple of decades, the threat of German aggression. With age and scepticism, I find World War 1 as the last gasp of European imperialism a far more plausible explanation for that particular conflict. The sad fact is, most wars are far more morally ambiguous than World War 2, and many wars end, not in clear cut victory, but when both sides decide that it really isn't worth it to continue the fight.
And that's one of the things that I don't like about Memorial Day. It's not just a time of remembrance. We don't just honor those who sacrificed their lives in war. We demand that our war dead did not die in vain. I'm sorry, but since the inception of Memorial Day, almost one million Americans have died in our wars, and many of them have died for nothing. Right now we are fighting two wars. While I realize that there may have been alternatives, I do view the invasion of Afghanistan as a reasonable response to 9/11. The Taliban may not have been aware, specifically, of the attacks before hand, but clearly the Taliban was aware that Al-Qaeda was using their country as a safe base for terrorism. Iraq, on the other hand was a war of choice. Not only have 4,000 plus Americans died in vain, but we've also crippled our economy for decades with the huge financial cost of dealing with a country that was little more than a minor irritant to us. On Memorial Day, it might be wise to remember the obscene stupidity of some of our wars, and not just the sacrifice made by some of our soldiers.

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