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Remember The Cost Of War?

They call it Memorial Day, but the holiday seems more about forgetting than it is about remembering. Maybe we ought to call it Selective Memory Day.

Propaganda for the pro-war holiday spills over into the weeks surrounding the actual day itself. I just got done listening to a Memorial Day follow-up story from National Public Radio about a man NPR called a “hero” – for shooting dead over 160 people. The consequences of calling praising snipers as heroes weren’t discussed by NPR, though.

Kill enough people, and you become heroic?

That was what the U.S. military taught sniper John Allen Muhammed, who ended up using his military skills to target people going about their daily business, shooting them simply because he could.

The U.S. military also instructed Christopher Dorner, who killed two police officers and two civilians earlier this year, and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, in the methods of murder. These soldiers weren’t remembered on Memorial Day, however, because they don’t fit our national mythology of war.

Memorial Day observances didn’t not just forget the attitude of cruel violence that’s brought back home from the battlefield. Also forgotten were the financial costs. The popularity of war leads to irrational and unsustainable military spending, such as Barack Obama’s decision to spend billions of dollars on a new generation of American nuclear weapons to be placed in Europe, at a time when food stamps and Head Start educational programs are being savagely cut.

It’s never mentioned in Memorial Day speeches that it was the American military that unleashed the curse of nuclear weapons upon the world. The U.S. military arrogantly thought that it could keep the secret all to itself, but the secret wasn’t kept for long. It’s because of the sloppy work of our own war machine that there are now nuclear weapons in Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, China…

China. Oh yes, China. The story didn’t quite come out in time for this year’s observances, but I wonder if anyone speaking on Memorial Day 2014 will dare to remind audiences that the incompetence of military security allowed Chinese hackers to gain access to plans for many of the USA’s most expensive weapons systems. The American people have paid hundreds of billions of dollars to develop and produce these machines, which the Chinese military can now manufacture as well, at a fraction of the cost.

Next year, in the midst of the parades and fireworks and teary speeches, let’s take a minute to remember this: War has brought us more trouble than triumph, and the military has brought us more debt than defense.

3 comments to Remember The Cost Of War?

  • Bill

    Peregrin, there are people in this world (we call them “Republicans”) who take it as a first principle that “government is bad,” and from that first principle they spin an unwarranted narrative concerning the evil of every government activity, from feeding the hungry to regulating rapacious capitalists, protecting our air and our water, stoplights, firemen, school teachers, air traffic control, and on and on. And, of course, this is wrong. Government is good when it does the right things and does them effectively, and it is bad when it doesn’t.

    So too, there are any number of people (we generally call them “Progressives”) who take it as a first principle that “the military is bad,” and go from there to condemn everything military. But I think that is equally wrong. I share your disgust with military adventures, funded by irrational and unsustainable spending, that drain our coffers and take money, resources, and the lives of fine young men and women away from more important government responsibilities. Yet my own understanding of human nature, in keeping with that of most other people, argues that good people need to be defended from the sociopathic evil-doers among us. As Richard Grenier wrote, “people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” On the local level, those “rough men” are the police, and while no right-thinking person can applaud the bad apples among them who sometimes run amok, still I believe there are very few indeed who would willingly live without access to their services. Just so, on the international level, those same “rough men” are the military. They are often — far too often — used unwisely by our politicians (remember that our military is under the ultimate command of civilians), but I think it is a regrettable error to despise the military as a general principle. I’ve known many fine, honorable men and women in uniform who do nothing more — or less — than risk their lives to protect us all.

    You’re right that there is a “mythology of war” that tries (all too successfully) to make it seem glamorous and honorable and fun, none of which things it actually is. But that doesn’t mean our warriors are dishonorable people. You’re right that some ex-military men (it never seems to be women) have taken the violent skills they learned in the military and used them, as civilians, for evil. But I think that’s a specious argument; I can’t prove this, but I’m pretty sure research would demonstrate that many more American civilians die in violent crimes perpetrated by folks who have never served in the military than die at the hands of ex-military bad guys.

    I’ve previously taken exception here at IT to the old canard that the US, and/or its military, “unleashed” nuclear weapons on an innocent world, so I’ll resist the temptation to do so again here.

    My point, I guess, can be summarized by paraphrasing an old Christian principle that I’ve always admired: Hate the war, not the warrior.

    • Bill, I think there’s a huge space between what I’ve written and “hate”. Likewise, there’s a huge space between having a reasonably sized military to provide for a reasonably sized defensive capability and the size of military we have now. Third, there’s a huge space between treating ex-soldiers decently as human being and the hyped up glorification we have going on in our country right now.

      The number of sociopaths among us is very small. Those with slight sociopathic tendencies are made worse by going through the military, putting us in more danger, not less.

      Measured as a portion of the population, ex-soldiers are more violent, and more dangerous when they’re violent. IF more people are victims of violent crimes by civilians, it’s only because there are many, many more civilians than veterans.

      Statistics: Veterans are about 7 percent of the US population. They are between 10 and 20 percent of the US prison population, depending on the year. That doesn’t fit with the “hero” mythology, does it?

      The Canadians and Mexicans haven’t tried to invade us for generations, but these ex-soldiers are a real threat to their friends, families and neighbors.

      Our nation invented nuclear weapons, and then couldn’t keep the secret. Our nation DID unleash nuclear weapons on the world. It’s a historical fact.

      Now, due to the ineptitude of military security, China now can build more deadly weapons that can be used against Americans. Thank you, military.

      Imagine if we had a well-conceived Peace Corps the size of the military. I think we’d have a lot better relations with other countries, so we wouldn’t have to be so worried about “defense”, and we’d have psychologically more healthy population of Americans, too.

      Unfortunately, too many of our children are raised to think that playing G.I. Joe is exciting, while serving other people’s needs is boring. Memorial Day is a part of the twisted culture that creates that problem.

  • manning120

    The military should be used for self defense. On the international scale, that means something different than it does at the interpersonal level, but it doesn’t mean we should invade countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and — Iran or Korea.

    What troubles me about the ceremonial jingoism we’ve seen in recent days is that there’s never a word in favor of non-violence, which is the best and most effective way to resolve human conflicts, both interpersonally and internationally. With the exception, as noted, of true self defense.

    Another point: we don’t incur debt as a nation by our excessive militarism. The people in our nation who get paid for the weapons, transportation, soldiers’ and veteran’s benefits, etc. get money from the rest of us who pay taxes. The military industrial complex is a huge consumer of revenues, but those revenues go by and large to the captains of the defense industries and the holders of financial portfolios benefitting from military expenditures. It’s not as if we were going into debt to help someone other than the rich in our own nation. I’m talking about a major wealth redistribution scheme. Simply saying the problem is debt or cost misses the point, unless you point out who’s paying and who’s getting paid.

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