Memorial Day will be celebrated by the usual high speed trips to the shore, to the lake, to our lake homes, wherever we can get away to in unthinking oblivion, in the comfort of our own indifference, with displays of flags, and the sounds of bugles and drums, and by parades and speeches by bloviating politicians with stupefied unconscious applause.
It will be celebrated by the corporate oligarchies, which make guns, bombs and bullets, fighter planes and drones, aircraft carriers and an endless assortment of military armaments, which hope to cravenly capitalize on the more than $800 billion in annual military contracts that have been approved by Congress and the President.
In other words, Memorial Day represents the annual apogee of the hypocritical patriotism of our politicians and corporations, as they prepare for more war, more graves and white crosses, to receive more flowers on future Memorial Days.
The memory of our war dead, like our father, a highly decorated war hero of World War II, who was a Pathfinder paratrooper, who jumped into the frightening dark abyss of Normandy on the evening of June 5, 1944, deserve a better dedication. They deserve a dedication to peace and a defiance to governments that make war.
Politicians who voted funds for war, business contractors and lobbyists for the military, generals who ordered young men into war, the FBI men who spied on anti-war activists, should be banned from attending all public ceremonies on this sacred day. The dead of our past wars must be honored, and let us pledge ourselves, in their memory, to demand no more war.
Let us honor on Memorial Day, John Dos Passos, who argued against war in his angry novel 1919. Let us honor Thoreau, who went to jail in protest of the Mexican War, and defined a mode of conscientious objection as, “let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.” Let us honor Mark Twain, who argued against our war with the Filipinos at the turn of the 20th century.
We must honor and hold a place in our heart for the antiwar activist Eugene Debs, who was due to his outspoken protests of entering World War I, arrested and jailed along with more the 450 other conscientious objectors in 1917, for violations of the Espionage Act. Debs was sentenced to ten years in prison. In 1920 he ran for United States President from the Atlanta Penitentiary and received a million votes as a peace candidate. His antiwar activism along with Randolph Bourne, would be an inspiration for activists during the Vietnam War.
Let us remember Jeanette Rankin of Montana, the first woman to be elected to Congress, who was one of the lone votes against entering World War I in 1917. She again voted no on the Declaration of War after Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Let us honor the effort to avoid war by President John F, Kennedy, when on October 11, 1963 he signed the National Security Action Memorandum NSAM 263, bringing 1000 military personnel home from Vietnam. 42 days later he was murdered in Dallas, Texas.
Let us honor I.F. Stone, who all alone among newspaper editors, exposed the fraud and brutality of the Korean War. Let us honor Martin Luther King, who protested bravely and vigorously and righteously against the Vietnam War, in his speech “A Time to Break Silence,” on April 4, 1967. Exactly a year later, on April 4 1968, he was assassinated as he stepped onto his motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee.
Let us honor Father Daniel Berrigan, who declared in court, “for the burning of draft cards instead of children in Vietnam.” We must remember and honor the student activists at the University of California at Berkley, like Mario Savio and Jack Weinberg, who protested against the Vietnam War, and confronted the University’s policy of allowing on campus military recruitment. In 1966, the student activists sang their protest song, “It’s Gonna be a Long Hard Fight,” to the tune of the Beatle’s, “Hard Day’s Night.”
Let us honor all the anti-war activists in the late 1960s and early 1970s who pioneered a new kind of protest, one that hinged on exposing the corporate role in war, like the thousand dissident shareholders and proxies who attended the Honeywell Corporation’s spring 1970 annual meeting in Minneapolis to protest the company’s manufacture of fragmentation bombs. The activists forced the adjournment of the meeting after only fourteen minutes.
Let us honor Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California, who was the only representative in Congress to vote no for the war resolution, three days after 9/11. Let us honor the memory of Paul Wellstone, who was the only Senator running for reelection, to vote no on the Iraq War, on October 11, 2002. Two weeks later he was dead.
We need to honor and praise the Poets against the War, who in January 2003 refused an invitation by Laura Bush to “take tea” in the White House Rose Garden to discuss Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes, in a craven effort to put a veneer of morality on the “Shock and Awe” attack on Iraq.
Let us honor the rare few politicians, like Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey, Dennis Kucinich, John Walters, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, and Ilhan Omar, who have not surrendered their integrity, claiming to be “realistic” or “practical.”
On Memorial Day, we must rage against our country that has despicably used NATO to set up the Ukraine war and spends in the name of “defense,” nearly a trillion dollars a year on military weaponry, yet won’t even think about providing universal health care, a living wage and social justice.
Those in power say we must not deplete our defenses. Yet, those in power have unconscionably depleted our livelihood, and depleted our youth, as they have consistently stolen our precious resources and applied them to war.
It is not easy, in the corrupting atmosphere of Washington D.C., to hold firmly to the truth, to resist the temptation of capitulation that presents itself as compromise. We are not politicians, but citizens. We have no office to hold on to, only our consciences, which insist on seeking and telling the truth. That, history suggests, is the most realistic thing a citizen can do.
Americans have hidden behind the mask of their countries good intentions for so long, that their faces have grown into that mask. The mask that hides and deludes the lies of empire and ruthless resource acquisition. The lies of 9/11, the lies that brought us the Iraq War, the lies of the new heresy hunt of the “war on terror,” and today with the criminal in the White House and his co-conspirators, the lies put before us regarding Venezuela and Iran, in the immoral attempt to foment even more war.
Soon, profound change will come to this country, this world, so tired of its approaching spiritual death, so tired of war, so tired of a Fox media that is a cancer on our democracy, so tired of seeing our wealth squandered, while the basic needs of our families are not met. These needs are very practical and are requirements of the soul. The need for affordable health care for all, living wages, a sense of dignity, and a feeling of being at one with our fellow humans on earth.
Let us on this and all Memorial Days, put flowers on the graves of our grandfathers, fathers and sons and daughters, and then destroy the weapons of death that endanger us, and waste our resources, and now even threaten our children and grandchildren.
“We the people,” have our own agenda, our own mandate. We must all join the BDS movement, boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against all the forces that year after year spend more money on military defense, than on programs of social uplift.
Let us on this Memorial Day, not bask in the same old stupefied celebrations and obedience to the hypocrisy of war.