A Reminder of What Is Often Forgotten on Memorial Day

Arlington National Cemetery
Photo credit: © ITAR-TASS/ZUMAPRESS.com
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This Memorial Day marks another year of young Americans serving — and dying — abroad. Regardless of how you feel about the wars they are fighting, or the politicians who got them there, the sacrifice of those who gave life and limb deserve to be remembered.

It is, of course, telling that in recent years, fewer and fewer of the those who make the decisions to start and continue wars know what it feels like to lose a comrade-in-arms or to experience the horrors of battle.

As a small reminder of the real consequences of what are too often political decisions, here is a collection of artwork that provides a small but instructive glimpse of war. It should serve to underline that war and related military service are not just something to be saluted on football fields and in ritual parades and special boarding courtesies on airlines — but a deadly business for all involved, to be avoided at all costs.

“The Apotheosis of War” by Vasily Vereshchagin. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Memorial Day in Searing Images

But Memorial Day should not just be about those who did not come back. It should also be about those who did, because most of them left something behind on battlefields across the globe. For some it is a limb, for others it is their innocence, and for others yet, it is their sanity.

While some politicians seemingly can’t wait to send Americans into harm’s way — and surround themselves with symbols of “patriotism” when doing so — they often appear to forget these same young men and women when they return … or don’t return.

And that is when they need help the most. Here is a story we wrote to remind us of that:

Vietnam war veteran

Vietnam war veteran.  Photo credit: Jon Martin / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Stop Patronizing Vets And Start Helping Them

Finally, the people who most loudly proclaim their support for the troops are the ones who most need to understand this fundamental truth: If you really want to support the troops, stop sending them to die in meaningless wars. Here is our take on that:

Afghanistan

America’s longest war continues.
Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy (CC BY-SA 2.0) See complete attribution below.

Want to Support the Troops? Stop Sending Them to Die in Meaningless Wars


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from John Singer Sargent / Wikimedia.

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3 responses to “A Reminder of What Is Often Forgotten on Memorial Day”

  1. Such an important article, thank you. As commenter Marbux described, there is clearly a “before” and “after” Vietnam. (I tried to enter this as a reply to his comment…) Many of us are, rightfully, a lot more skeptical and wiser since. That period is hurtful to us all, and I do not fault you and our other soldiers for doing what you all were “supposed” to do, without any second guessing. It seems that most soldiers went to Vietnam believing in the inherent goodness of America, the benevolent cry regarding the “purpose” of that war, and that to do any different would go against everything our population had been taught about America at war. I do not fault you or them for making that call, and in fact understand it. However, as is your message, and that of the article, we should certainly learn from that and all wars, and we have not. We have not even heeded Eisenhower’s and Truman’s warnings since WW II and that horror has indeed also come home to roost (more below). What is written here about wars subsequent to WW II is scarily, painfully true. There are countries that do have a much healthier relationship among the people, war, and weaponry. It seems, understandably, that when everyone has a stake, decisions are taken more carefully and with different weights of considerations. Maybe we need something akin to mandatory conscription for everyone here? It seems that that type of societal practice eliminates the large divide between military and civilians, which we have on a number of levels. Even in peacetime, conscription also importantly instills, besides that greater cohesiveness, a healthy respect and understanding by all people for wars and their costs, weaponry, violence, and alternative paths to nonviolent co-existence.

    See my site ourconstitution.info, Home and under that Medical-Military, regarding the reality of “a lot of killers” here, in and out of hospitals (quote by Trump to O”Reilly). I also have that transcript and a link to the interview on my Links page. As a fired whistleblower at a large university, with a medical campus, and long-time CIA hub, I will attest that we have begun that horrid, treacherous descent … We must reign in the FBI, CIA, and Intel apparatus, including reform, revise, disband, or whatever is necessary to get them to constitutionality, and with valid, reliable, and verifiable oversight. Protest with me in Miami, or wherever you are, before it is too late. Send your protest pics and I will post. CIA OUT of our schools and medical institutions.

  2. thomas harris says:

    Beware the military industrial complex.

  3. Please stop hitting we vets with that idiotic “thank you for your service” line.

    I’m a veteran of 27 months’ combat duty in Viet Nam, plus one day. If you believe that any of the U.S. wars since World War II have had anything at all to do with serving your interests, then you have not studied why the U.S. actually goes to war. I have. It’s all about expanding and maintaining the U.S. Empire.

    That empire does not exist for the benefit of our civil rights. It exists to feed the maw of western oligarchs’ lust for wealth and power, of course all wrapped up in patriotic and humanitarian garb to divert the attention of the masses from checking to see if the Emperor actually is wearing any clothes. My wisdom acquired in Viet Nam can be summarized in three statements: [i] reality can be a bitch; [ii] other people’s slogans are seldom if ever worth risking your life for; and [iii] when you find yourself part of an invading army in a foreign land fighting patriots, it’s time to run a reality check on your worldview.

    When someone hits me with that “thank you for your service” line, I get the urge to grab them by their throat, slam them into the nearest wall, and ask them just what more precisely they meant by throwing that bit of propaganda in my face. It’s a display of incredible ignorance. I wasn’t doing a damned thing for people who say such asinine things by helping kill patriots — and civilians — in Viet Nam. Somewhere between 3 and 5 million Vietnamese people, we killed. And no one has yet put a number on the number of Vietnamese permanently maimed, although it has to be multiples of the number killed. In fact, there are still thousands of Vietnamese being killed every year when “dud” ordnance we strew all over their country finally explodes.

    And can I get medical service from the Department of Veteran Affairs without having to endure that “thank you for your service” insult to my intelligence? No, I get it every time. Unfortunately, that’s where I have to go to get treatment for my multiple “service”-connected disabilities. “Service,” they say! In reality, I was enslaved, given seven weeks “training,” and shipped off to the other side of the world to dodge bullets and kill patriots so the chicken-hawks in Washington, D.C. could brag about being “tough on communism,” whilst fattening their own purses along with their buddies in the military-industrial complex.

    To this day, I’m reminded of what I did and experienced in Viet Nam every time I smell meat being roasted, hear a helicopter fly by, or have an American flag forced within my field of vision. The Fourth of July with its explosions and the smell of gunpowder permeating the atmosphere? That’s the one day of the year when I take tranquilizers. Here, let me show veterans my gratitude by forcing them back into combat hypervigilant mode with some explosions. Fah! And with the memories comes the guilt, because of the things I did, because I survived whilst millions of others did not, and because the utter madness of American foreign wars frustratingly rages on nonetheless.

    “Thank you for your service” is a very sly bit of propaganda. It obligates all non-veterans to mindlessly repeat it lest they be thought insensitive, yet conflates our military’s missions with its former members. But the veteran and his former mission are two quite different things; one is a human being whilst the other was an obligation to kill fellow human beings imposed upon him by chicken-hawk psychopaths who have a knack for attaining powerful positions in government.

    Every now and then someone stumbles along who attempts to grow some feathers on that bit of linguistic trickery by claiming that the American veteran fought to “protect our freedoms” or some other bit of nonsense. But it is a claim that cannot withstand the light of day; there is absolutely no honorable purpose in fighting foreign wars and U.S. foreign wars have nothing to do with protecting our freedoms. They have to do with depriving others of their freedoms and their natural resources and with stuffing dollars into military contractor’s pockets. We were not heroes. At best, we were victims of the chicken hawks yet acted as their hired killers.

    So please, in the future, do not insult the intelligence of veterans by thanking them for their service or feeding them homilies about fighting for our freedoms. It’s a lie and it’s offensive.