Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Day Moralizing

President Obama's weekly radio address
This weekend, folks* across the country are opening up the pool, firing up the grill, and taking a well-earned moment to relax. But Memorial Day is more than a three-day weekend. In town squares and national cemeteries, in public services and moments of quiet reflection, we will honor those who loved their country enough to sacrifice their own lives for it.

 Ain't America grand?  Everywhere you look, regular folks are opening up their private pools and slapping juicy filet mignons on the grills. Life is so good. In between romping and rollicking in the town square, waving flags and marching down prosperous Main Streets, regular folks are piously bowing their heads in this Time of Plenty and remembering those who loved their country enough to make everybody rich and self-satisfied and free from independent thought. What Second Great Depression?

This Memorial Day, Michelle and I will join Gold Star families, veterans, and their families at Arlington National Cemetery. We’ll pay tribute to patriots of every generation who gave the last full measure of devotion, from Lexington and Concord to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Presidents indulging in muted bellicosity always co-opt their wives in order to soften the ugly reality that they and their predecessors have been directly responsible for the deaths and disfigurements of millions of people. Heck, Dubya will even be draggng Laura back to the White House this week to unveil their official portraits! War crimes? What war crimes?

Later that day, we’ll join Vietnam veterans and their families at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial—the Wall. We’ll begin to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. It’s another chance to honor those we lost at places like Hue, Khe Sanh, Danang and Hamburger Hill. And we’ll be calling on you—the American people—to join us in thanking our Vietnam veterans in your communities.

Since Vietnam is but a fuzzy memory, it is now safe to acknowledge, glorify and mythologize it. It is a Golden Anniversary, a golden opportunity for nostalgic propaganda. Thank the Vietnam vets in your communities, if you even know who they are. Not a few of them died prematurely because of undiagnosed PTSD, alcoholism, drug abuse. Many are lying forgotten in VA hospitals. Chances are that your local grizzled dumpster-diver or town drunk is a Vietnam vet, neglected and despised then, and invisible now. Vietnam has been described as the first teenage war, meaning most Nam veterans are still only in their sixties or seventies, despite the golden anniversary hoopla. The average age of combatants was only 20.

Even as we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, we reaffirm our commitment to care for those who served alongside them—the veterans who came home. This includes our newest generation of veterans, from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Depending on who you believe, the veteran unemployment rate is either well above the national average, or getting better all the time. The government has partnered with slave factories like Walmart, which pledges to give "Careers With a Mission" jobs to returning vets. They claim to match military skills to job placement. For example, an Army intelligence expert might land a job as a store security guard, or otherwise morph from protecting our freedoms to protecting corporate investors!

Walmart: Morphing Your Allegiance from One Empire to Another

The Homeland Security complex says it has manufactured 50,000 make-work jobs for vets to get them out of sight, out of mind, and to prevent any more of them throwing down their heroism medals in disgust and getting beaten up at NATO protests. We have to make room, after all, for the next generation of Afghanistan (Iran? Asia Pacific? Latin America?) veterans, many of whom will be the children and grandchildren of Vietnam and Iraq veterans. The cycle of war profiteering will never end. Thanks in part to the sacrifice of the troops, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney got a 16% raise last year, up to $23 million. William H. Swanson of Raytheon raked in $24.88 million. Contrast that with the base pay of a sacrificial Army private: $1500 a month.

We have to serve them and their families as well as they have served us: By making sure that they get the healthcare and benefits they need; by caring for our wounded warriors and supporting our military families; and by giving veterans the chance to go to college, find a good job, and enjoy the freedom that they risked everything to protect.

They will be paying higher premiums for their healthcare, in order that we can free up more money to buy weapons, predator drones, bombs, aircraft carriers, fighter jets and generally continue to enrich defense and private security contractors. We are failing to rein in the for-profit online colleges who continue to scam and indebt our returning veterans. "Enjoying the freedom they risked everything to protect" means continued prosperity for Wall Street and the military industrial complex, and austerity for everybody else.

Our men and women in uniform took an oath to defend our country at all costs, and today, as members of the finest military the world has ever known, they uphold that oath with dignity and courage. As President, I have no higher honor than serving as their Commander-in-Chief. But with that honor comes a solemn responsibility – one that gets driven home every time I sign a condolence letter, or meet a family member whose life has been turned upside down.

Many of our young men and women joined the service because they could not find a decent job here at home. They took an oath to become pawns in an endless campaign of military aggression in far-flung, impoverished corners of the world. The finest military the world has ever known is also the largest, most wasteful and deadliest military the world has ever known. It is hated and feared by innocent people the wide world over. All the letters of condolence, all the meetings with bereaved family members, have never stopped the greatest super-power on earth from waging its endless campaign for global dominance. The faux- sympathetic presidential pen is never mightier than that most profitable sword.

No words can ever bring back a loved one who has been lost. No ceremony can do justice to their memory. No honor will ever fill their absence.

But we keep giving speeches and holding parades and laying wreaths anyway, to feel all warm and snuggly inside and to justify our actions in our own minds. Ceremonies give meaning to the meaningless and justification for the unjustifiable.

But on Memorial Day, we come together as Americans to let these families and veterans know that they are not alone. We give thanks for those who sacrificed everything so that we could be free. And we commit ourselves to upholding the ideals for which so many patriots have fought and died.

The wars have bankrupted us as a nation. But thanks anyway to all the grunts who suffered and died so the plutocrats can maintain the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed. They have become free to wreak their havoc with unfettered abandon. We commit ourselves to the ideal of sacrificing poor people, so rich people and corporations can thrive. Platitudinous speeches like this one all sound alike, because they're a dime a dozen. 

Thank you, God bless you, and have a wonderful weekend.

 Fire up the grills, play a round of golf, and jump in your pools. Your president hereby declares your uncomfortable two minutes of quiet reflection to be officially over.

*"When a politician uses the word 'folks' we should brace ourselves for the deceit or worse that is coming." --Noam Chomsky.


Pearl said...

A wonderful column!

The decision that Obama made to increase troops to Afghanistan is something I will never forgive him for. He proved that the military mentality was his and even if he had made better choices in other areas, it overshadowed
everything else.

The continual support of military families by Michelle and Mrs. Biden turns my stomach, especially knowing that most of the burden on families is because their men (or women) are not being given proper help, physically,emotionally and financially, when on the battlefield or when they return if
they are lucky. Never mind the lack of media attention to the endless flag draped coffins returning from the battle fields.

The hypocrisy of the statements you quoted by our president is unsurprising,but merely a repeat of all the statements about unjust wars by leaders through time.
Many troops are unemployed minorities who hope to create a future for themselves and others are totally brainwashed by the lies they are told about the purpose of their war.

When I went to Florida from Canada for winters in the past, I joined the local Democratic party in our area and met some Vietnam veterans who told us of their experiences which were beyond belief. They were awakened to the truth by what they saw and were forced to do, and we even had to fight the
democratic leaders of our group to get "The Fog of War" shown at a meeting since the democratic group leaders felt it might be too provocative!! As program director they did not permit me to organize a debate about the Middle East since more than the Israeli point of view would be discussed and
they were worried that we would alienate our Jewish members.

I finally left the group and could see the handwriting on the wall of where the Democratic party was heading.

Memorial day always makes me depressed for all the lives lost and wasted. Even WW 2 could have been avoided if the causes had been addressed.

Thanks again Karen - you are a true patriot.

Denis Neville said...

Cheap grace is “your president declaring your uncomfortable two minutes of quiet reflection to be officially over.”

Excellent comment, Karen!

Reminds me of Andrew Bacevich’s “Ballpark Liturgy: America’s New Civic Religion - Cheap Grace at Fenway,” on the new civic religion of honoring the troops:

“To stand in solidarity with those on whom the burden of service and sacrifice falls is about as far as they will go. Expressions of solidarity affirm that the existing relationship between soldiers and society is consistent with democratic practice. By extension, so, too, is the distribution of prerogatives and responsibilities entailed by that relationship: a few fight, the rest applaud. Put simply, the message that citizens wish to convey to their soldiers is this: although choosing not to be with you, we are still for you (so long as being for you entails nothing on our part). Cheering for the troops, in effect, provides a convenient mechanism for voiding obligation and easing guilty consciences…

“The late German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a name for this unearned self-forgiveness and undeserved self-regard. He called it cheap grace. Were he alive today, Bonhoeffer might suggest that a taste for cheap grace, compounded by an appetite for false freedom, is leading Americans down the road to perdition.”

Like Michael Moore commented at the end of Fahrenheit 911, “If we're going to ask our troops to die for us, can we at least make sure they're doing so in service of good rather than in service to politicians lies?”

James F Traynor said...

It's all such sad bullshit.

Roger said...

Somehow the writer of this blog didn't get around to actually thanking those who gave their life in war, many of whom joined the military out of sincere regard for their country regardless of how misguided that decision was in the eyes of the writer.

Has the writer of the blog ever been to an Irish wake? Memorializing the dead is in part a moment to celebrate life. The writer could ratchet down the cynicism and thereby avoid contaminating this solemn day with political rhetoric and prejudging the sincere feelings of those who may agree with the facts he presents but want to commemorate veterans in whatever way they see fit.

James F Traynor said...

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

4Runner said...

@ Roger

The writer of this blog--a very brave woman, BTW-- is in no way denigrating the war dead. She is simply illustrating how cynical politicians (such as our Prez) attempt to manipulate & mislead us with patriotic blather.
Those of us who served in the US military were constantly reminded that we were defending our nation's freedoms. We were so easily lied to....

Also, in regard to those who died: they were not all "heroes". Many were, but a good percentage of wartime deaths come from friendly fire, fragging--and let's be honest--fleeing in abject fear. Which I can totally sympathize with.

Cranky in Australia said...

I feel compelled to bring up my "patriot tax" idea again. Slap a dollar or whatever on every gallon of gas and ALL of the revenue it generates goes straight to veterans’ hospitals and veterans benefits. If some tax hating Republican, Libertarian or faux Democrat complains, send them a yellow ribbon magnet for their car.

Talk is cheap - let’s see these warmongers put their money where their mouths are and see a little shared sacrifice.

The new French president and his cabinet voted themselves a 30% wage decrease. Maybe our patriotic president and our slimy Congress should do the same. It is not like they need the money. They are all multi - millionaires from insider trading. Hey, Nancy! I'm talkin' to you!

Valerie said...

Lovely comment,@ Pearl!

And @Roger, if fake platitudes from politicians who NEVER dreamed of soldiering I am sure they feel they had better things to do) - who are just fine sending someone else's sons and daughters to die and be mutilated or psychologically scarred for life - all so that oil companies and the military contract corporations can get rich and every day Americans can remain addicted to oil - If these platitudes make you feel better and are so important to you - then you are easily bought. And that is tragic considering the REAL price so many young people have paid in the name of patriotism.

True patriots –like Andrew Bacevitch and others who comment on this blog – especially Karen – hate that fake patriotism is being used to manipulate our population into an indefinite state of war – and we hate that so many young and idealistic people are having their lives ruined by war that benefits only the most economically powerful.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Karen's essay aches for the soldiers and the other victims of our senseless wars. As for Obama's speech, who can improve on James' one-word epithet?

How smoothly our golden-throated orator in the White House recites the clichés of remembrance. So that we may better forget. So that we may value our aggressions as noble deeds. So that anyone who needs it may receive absolution for the silent support of militarism. So that broken soldiers may receive an abundance of good wishes to support them through the rest of their lives. So that we may never question the unassailable tax of war. So that we may get back to festive hot dogs with the works and wash away any lingering trace of blame with another dip in the pool. Hoorah for civic religion and cheap grace.

Neil Gillespie said...


Karen is merely drawing attention to the hypocrisy of Obama's weekly radio address.

Keep in mind what our U.S. Supreme Court did last year in Snyder v. Phelps that allowed hate speech at the funerals of our soldiers. Phelps and his church routinely picketed the funerals of American soldiers killed in the line of duty. Phelps extreme ideology contends that that the soldiers died because god is angry at America for its sinful ways, such as homosexuality.

Phelps and his church protested the funeral of Matthew Snyder, a Marine who died in the Iraq War, and his father, Albert Snyder, sued Phelps. From Wikipedia

"Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. ___ (2011), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that Speech on a public sidewalk, about a public issue, cannot be liable for a tort of emotional distress, even if the speech is found to be "outrageous"."

"At issue was whether the First Amendment protected protests of public protestors at a funeral against tort liability. It involved a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress made by Albert Snyder, the father of Matthew Snyder, a Marine who died in the Iraq War. The claim was made against the Phelps family, including Fred Phelps, and against Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). The Court ruled in favor of Phelps in an 8–1 decision, holding that their speech related to a public issue, and was disseminated on a public sidewalk."

Justice Samuel Alito (who served as a Captain in the reserves), was the lone dissenting justice in this case, beginning his dissent with, "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case." He concluded his dissent, "In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like petitioner."

Fred Phelps is a disbarred lawyer and pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church. Phelps has 13 children, 11 of whom are lawyers, and this is how several of them make a living.

Funny how hate speech is protected at a soldier’s funeral, but Obama signed a bill that would ban Occupy protests on federal property. From Slate: "H.R. 347, benignly titled the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act, passed the House 399-3."

"This bill was enacted after being signed by the President on March 8, 2012."

As James F Traynor said..."It's all such sad bullshit."

Neil Gillespie said...

Thanks Karen for reminding us that many who went to ‘Nam were teenagers.

@4Runner, re they were not all "heroes"

Not everyone served with good intentions either, some had dark motives. Years ago while speaking about the draft with a colleague who was a Vietnam vet, he described his voluntary enlistment as an angry teenager. "Bobby" was looking forward to getting a gun and killing people, he said. Bobby was angry, he said, because his mother had a reputation as the "town whore". When I knew him, Bobby appeared as a normal looking, middle-age white guy, although he had an addiction to cocaine.

The services are recognizing the psychological aspects of war more openly than in the past. The Marine Corps has a website for DSTRESS Line, "developed by the Corps to provide professional, anonymous counseling for Marines, attached Sailors, and families when it's needed most."

Also, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD

Valerie said...

Thanks, Neil for your comment. I can't help but compare in my mind the fact that protesters in New York who actually HAVE a good reason for protesting are harrassed and bullied by the police but Phelps and his ilk are allowed to go on their merry way. Where were the police then? Why weren't they giving the Phelps protesters a hard time?

You know, I always grew up respecting the police - we used to wave to the police officers in their police cars as children - but I am slowly but steadily changing my mind.

Anne Lavoie said...

I am nauseated every time I hear Obama bragging about the burden he bears from having to autograph form letters to the dead soldiers' survivors as their consolation prize for sacrificing their beloved for his idiotic, futile wars. He should be filled with crippling shame for the tragically endless suffering he is causing countless families here and abroad. Noble Peace Prize my ass!

Denis Neville said...

@ Anne Lavoie – re: “Noble Peace Prize my ass!”

Obama today:

"As commander in chief, I can tell you that sending our troops into harm's way is the most wrenching decision that I have to make. I can promise you I will never do so unless it is absolutely necessary…”

He’ll use drones instead… yet another drone strike in Pakistan today, the fourth strike in six days.

Yet another Afghan family (and a bakery in Pakistan) is extinguished by an airstrike: unleash the justifications

Pakistan’s beatings will continue until their morale improves, i.e., they open that damn road and release that fake CIA vaccination doctor.

Glenn Greenwald, “American rage at Pakistan over the punishment of a CIA-cooperating Pakistani doctor is quite revealing”

Obama continues:

“and that when we do, we must give our troops a clear mission and the full support of a grateful nation.”

Cheap grace!

“Tommy” by Rudyard Kipling

“You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all: We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational. Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace. For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!” But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot; An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please; An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!”

Let’s all go grill something.

Pearl said...

We should revive the play written in l936 by Irwin Shaw, "Bury the Dead". It is about 6 soldiers who refuse to be buried after being killed in a war and talk about what they feel and question what has happened. This riveting play is as pertinent today as it was those many years ago (before WW 2). I saw it as a child and never forgot the impact it made on me. It should be brought to
the stage again by some acting groups.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Every year on Bloomsday in Syracuse, NY, the James Joyce Club reads and, for some passages, acts out “Ulysses” nonstop in a public venue. People drop in for a while, sip a beer -- yes, that kind of venue -- and move on. The much anticipated “yes!yes!yes!” passage usually draws the biggest crowd. Scandalous, but the celebration does get covered by the local press and bestows yet another year of life to modernism.

What if communities around the country did something comparable next Memorial Day? Not with Joyce, of course, but along Pearl’s line of thinking. What’s to stop a peace group from holding a public reading of Irwin Shaw’s “Bury the Dead”? As far as I can tell from a quick google, the play is not forgotten or irrelevant and was last performed on a big stage within days after Obama was elected president. The performance (Shaw’s, that is) was reviewed in the NY Times.

Next year, over the Memorial Day weekend, would the maintenance of civic order or the terms of the NDAA rule out marathon public readings of famous antiwar novels, short stories and poetry? By OWS groups or any other pick-up team of readers? Imagine the effect of veterans in uniform proclaiming the lines of Siegfried Sassoon.

And would you attend?

Such readings might inspire more reflection and meaningful conversation among the citizenry than bloviating politicians followed by the sinking notes of “Taps.” If only, if only, if only some day such readings for Memorial Day could replace the hoopla that is now one more excuse to salute Mars and groom the public for more war, more war, more war.

Denis Neville said...

@ Pearl re: Irwin Shaw’s "Bury the Dead”

I had not heard of this play by Shaw. I was only aware of his novel The Young Lions, which I read many years ago.

Now, reading about Bury the Dead, (a general who just wants the dead soldiers to march into their graves sputters, "Wars can only be fought and won when the dead are buried and forgotten."), I am struck by just how relevant it is today (some 76 years later). Young people's dashed hopes and dreams (“There are too many books I haven’t read, too many places I haven’t seen, too many memories I haven’t kept long enough”) in the endless stupidity of war.

It should be brought to the stage again. It has in some places in the last decade, but not nearly enough.

There was a sermon in The Young Lions, given by an old pastor in the ruined church at Dover. Shaw in a 1953 interview said, “I tried to have that old man say what my only belief is about war—not to be proud of the thousands of bombers you send against the enemy and their cities, of the blind, indiscriminate, million-quality of your killing, no matter how necessary you may think it is. And when a soldier kills another soldier, he must kill with a sense of sin and tragedy. The sin is as much the soldier’s as it is of the enemy he kills by his hand, and that is the way a soldier loves his enemy, moved by a curious sense of sin that belongs to them both. That’s probably the fundamental thing I tried to say in the novel.”

Denis Neville said...

Why has the US peace movement collapsed under Obama?

Chris Woods interviews Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the US women-led peace movement Code Pink: