fight for a flag when you can buy one for a nickel.
grow weary of national holidays that have been converted into public
relations opportunities for the celebration of the war system. In
my childhood, Decoration Day was an opportunity to honor the dead
by decorating graves, and I recall numerous trips to the cemetery
to lay flowers at the headstones of my grandparents and aunts and
uncles, including an uncle who died in World War II. While this
holiday began as a way of remembering Civil War dead, its purpose,
in my youth, was not so confined. It was eventually renamed Memorial
Day, and its focus was narrowed to what it is today: the state-serving
remembrance of military veterans. That this Memorial Day weekend
was seized upon as an opportunity to open the World War II Memorial
in Washington, D.C., illustrates the point. For those who still
don't get the message, television stations give us a steady diet
of pro-war movies.
Day weekend will soon be followed by the Fourth of July. This day
– honoring the signing of the Declaration of Independence,
a writing of a decidedly anti-statist nature — has likewise been
co-opted by the war-lovers. Additional rounds of movies celebrating
warfare will be made available to television viewers. The 1942 Bing
Crosby musical, Holiday
Inn, includes a July Fourth segment with a montage of bombers,
naval ships, tanks, and other weaponry — with lyrics straight out
of FDR's "New Deal" – to remind audiences that what
began as a day to celebrate freedom from the state
was now to be understood as a day to glorify statism in its most
repressive and destructive form.
11th was referred to as Armistice Day in my youth, a
day set aside to celebrate the end of World War I; a day,
in other words, to honor a return to peace in the world.
By 1954, this day, too, had been hijacked by the war system, renamed
Veterans Day, and once again used by the statists to remind Americans
of the virtues of going off to foreign lands to kill others and
to get killed or wounded themselves. And, of course, another round
of pro-war films will saturate television screens. The heirs of
John Wayne and Randolph Scott must receive handsome residual payments
from the showing of such movies during the holiday seasons.
have wondered how far the war establishment might go in taking over
other holidays. Will Thanksgiving Day become a time to be "thankful"
for all the military hardware — including some ten thousand hydrogen
bombs — bestowed upon America? When, two Christmases ago, I saw
a Christmas card with Santa Claus decked out in a red-white-and-blue
suit, I knew the complete militarization of the culture was upon
holiday celebrations of warfare are rendered even more distasteful
by the nearly endless parade of speakers who praise war veterans
who "fought for freedom." I have long been disinclined
to criticize soldiers themselves, not because they are free from
personal responsibility for their participation in institutionalized
butchery, but because I prefer to focus my energies on the systemic
thinking that produces such insane practices. Soldiers – most
of whom were teenagers when they entered the military — are more
victims of statist indoctrination in the "glory" and "heroism"
of warfare than they are culprits. But just as the state found it
useful to exploit their lives in wartime, it capitalizes on their
deaths and sufferings in peacetime as a way of getting us to recommit
ourselves to the perpetuation of the war system. To be for peace
is to denigrate the memories of those who "sacrificed"
for our "freedom."
idea of soldiers "fighting for freedom" is an Orwellian-like
concept riddled with self-contradictions. To begin with, wars have
always reduced individual liberty, not only during but after
the wars. The American Civil War was conducted not to free
slaves, but to aggrandize state power, thus restricting liberties.
Lincoln has earned the disrespect of those who value liberty for
having laid the foundations of the present Leviathan state. The
Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean and Vietnamese
Wars, escalated the powers of the nation-state over the lives of
Americans. In case these earlier episodes of organized barbarity
are too distant for you, recall how quickly and easily the Bush
administration was able to greatly expand the American police-state
with such measures as the Patriot Act, the creation of a Department
of Homeland Security, and the arbitrary holding – without trial
or contact with family or attorneys — of virtually anyone the state
can it be seriously entertained that soldiers "fight for freedom?"
They were unable to secure even their own freedom from the
state. To allow one's life to be taken over, regimented, directed,
and even destroyed by the state, hardly qualifies as a working definition
of "freedom." Slavery is a word more befitting
such a subjugated condition.
how can a person be said to be "free" when his or her
life is embroiled in conflict? How can one be free when fighting
others? Is a life fired by anger and hatred of others, along with
a willingness to torture, maim, or kill anyone designated by state
officials as your "enemy," consistent with a life of freedom?
Day speeches are filled with the prayer that "these dead shall
not have died in vain." But the truth is that the victims of
warfare have always died in vain, and will continue to die
pointlessly, for war is its own reason for being. "War is the
health of the state," Randolph Bourne reminded us decades ago,
a health that, like the human body, is dependent upon regular exercise.
was ten years old when World War II ended, and I recall the sense
of relief in the anticipation that peace was to return to
the world. This was not unlike the attitude that surfaced, briefly,
with the end of the Cold War. But the state cannot endure peace.
We should have picked up the warning when, shortly after World War
II, the government changed the name of the "War Department"
to the "Defense Department." Such was the signal, had
we paid attention, that war had become a permanent system for advancing
corporate-state interests by the subjugation of the American people.
the state is to maintain power over us, it must have an endless
supply of enemies with which to excite our fears. The Soviet Union
served this purpose well for nearly half a century, but with its
collapse, the American state went in search of a new foe. Islamic
"terrorism" became the new adversary. With an expansive
military presence throughout the world, the American state had assured
itself of an enemy that is not likely to vanish. When the Bush administration
announced that the war on terror would be an endless one, it was
confirming the truth of Bourne's observation.
dangerous as terrorism is, we must acknowledge its origins and the
energies that sustain it. Humanity continues to be held hostage
to the deeper terrorist threat of which polite company refuses to
speak, namely, the political organization of society. As we continue
to recycle the destructive energies of the war system that is
the state, the time may soon be upon us when even the most patriotic
flag-waver will have to stand and say "enough!" As politicians
and other participants in the war racket continue to preach of our
"responsibilities" to keep this slaughterhouse stocked
with sacrificial victims, we may find ourselves called to a higher
responsibility. Learning how to renounce and walk away from this
obscene system may be the act of responsibility each of us must
take as our share of being human.
decent and compassionate human beings, let us remember the dead
and wounded of war — as well as their families — as the victims
of a kind of thinking that must be transcended if humanity is to
survive. But let us stop glorifying butchery with parades, medals,
gaseous speeches, and the erection of war memorials. Let us have
no more Tom Brokaw patronizing drivel that equates the "greatness"
of people with their willingness to join in lemming-like suicidal
marches. Let us stop investing the lives and souls of our sons and
daughters as our commitment to this vicious enterprise. Let us learn
to love our children more than we do the state that sees them as
nothing more than fungible resources for the mass production of
recall, years ago, news stories about the last Civil War or Spanish-American
War veteran to die. Perhaps we shall one day have occasion to celebrate
Memorial Day by remembering the final victim of the war system itself.