Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

I think that we tend to make a fetish out of the military in this country, partly because we are an empire and empires tend to glorify military power, but also out of guilt. Less than 10% of our population, soldiers and their families, bear the full costs of military conflict these days while the rest of us sacrifice nothing, pay nothing, and demand tax cuts and keep overseas tax shelters in times of national crisis. We're all for the troops so long as nothing more is demanded from us beyond a bumper sticker. That old citizen military idea of "we're all in this together" apparently died in the Vietnam War. Now the military plays the role of the hired help to clean up the messes that our short-sighted parochial-minded political policies create. It is no accident that the bulk of the military is made up people who would otherwise be working menial jobs in civilian life; the rural and urban poor, and immigrants. It is very exceptional these days for someone from a relatively privileged background who is college-bound or college-educated to volunteer for the military.

I am no militarist, and contrary to Clausewitz and many others, I see war as the failure of politics.

I think it's no accident that most of the peace activists opposing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that I know are veterans.

I am grateful to those who put themselves at risk and make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of us all.

Today I remember both of my grandfathers who were soldiers in World War I. My grandfather Harry Schumacher served as a frontline medical officer in France. When he graduated from medical school, he joined all the rest of his fellow graduates at the recruiting office right after the ceremony.

I remember my cousin James Corey who served as a Marine in the Pacific during World War II. He was on the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941 in Pearl Harbor, and was one of 13 survivors of the attack that destroyed the ship. He went on to see some of the worst fighting in the Pacific.

I remember all of the many friends I've known who were veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars.

And I remember colleagues and students who are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Murdoch Matthew said...

Common phrases like "the ultimate sacrifice" often conceal questionable assumptions. Unfortunately, many of those who died in military service didn't make a sacrifice -- they were the sacrifice. Honor to those who did their duty as it was presented to them; the motives of the people who sent them to die are not redeemed by the nobility of their victims.

JCF said...

"the motives of the people who sent them to die are not redeemed by the nobility of their victims."

Well said, MM.

I think of my Uncle Carroll: even in a "good war" like WW2, he left the better part of his health and sanity fighting in Okinawa, and never was really appreciated by his country for it (scraping by as a encyclopedia salesman!). Self-medicating w/ drugs and alcohol and too-fast driving (which all caught up w/ him, though he survived into his 70s).

RIP, Carroll: Semper Fi.