Game over. by Arcadio Esquivel, Costa Rica

This is going to be a touchy commentary. So I start with saying that nothing that follows is meant to deny the pain that the deaths we remember on Memorial Day bring forth, I wish every one of these human beings had lived to fill a fruitful and pleasant life.

But watching the Memorial Day events around me this last week, I sensed an aggravation that was hard to place.

A great part of it was, I realized, that almost all of these ceremonies seemed to have morphed into a “patriotic” display mixing military gear, religious invocation and exaltation of America First fervor.

Propaganda runs rampant. If we listen to the speeches and homilies offered at the events, young U.S. men died in Viet Nam to save us from communism, but I don’t think that is true. And today we are told military men and women are stationed in 160 countries around the world are there to protect the American Way of Life from different threats which are undefined. Apparently their demise, should that happen, will be “worth the sacrifice.” These are sanitized rites.

Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost the idea that setting aside a time to remember the deaths we have incurred in war was done so that we would focus on the pain, devastation, and waste of such losses. Instead we get rationalization and temporization.

In the relatively short history of the U.S. we have lost more than 1.3 million Americans in war. Millions more were injured and maimed.

Unfortunately the generations that experienced these devastations are regularly replaced by new people who weren’t there when everyone shared an immediate or immediately close loss.

These new generations lose the pain and too easily adopt the pomp. Celebrations such as Memorial Day, which should steel us against brute force, are bathed in a secular militaristic religious aura. Tanks parade, planes roar overhead, salutes are fired from weapons that bring death.

When we address the absent thousands, in cemeteries or at monuments, it is with the shared assumption that each life was “not lost in vain.” Yet mothers and fathers of these dead know better. Was it right to invade Mexico to take land? Were the wars against the first occupants of this continent about principles or principals? Did deaths incurred in war with Spain, Nicaragua, China, the Philippines, Grenada, El Salvador, Russia, Panama, and so many others defeat a threat to our democracy?

Too often we “honor our dead” by preparing the next group for the same fate. Few commentators and almost no politicians now talk about the need to avoid these experiences in the future. Most speak to the need to anticipate and even preemptively strike down those who might bring death to us by bringing death to them first.

Our reliance on past leadership that resulted in the use of the most base of instincts to accomplish policy should be to our shame. While it is probably true that there are unavoidable wars, none can be called righteous and only a few can be called “just.” Yet we have no leadership that urges policies to support peace by making the world a place less likely to go to war.

So, while it was the purpose of the original “Decoration Day” to remind society of the futility of war as a solution, it seems to me that that horror has been trivialized and camouflaged with patriotic bunting and platitudes which will only lead to more deaths and more ritual.

If we are to attend to Memorial Day in the future, please let us remember the pain of those who suffered what was likely a needless loss and please let us work to avoid such for those who have not as yet done so.

And let us stop creating more conflicts that generate the reason for the day at all.


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