National holidays are occasions for floods of clichés uttered at ceremonies in every city and every village and dutifully recorded in the next day's newspaper. Speakers from the President on down thank our veterans for the sacrifices they made for us. Some of them gave their lives. Many others returned from Iraq, from Afghanistan, from Vietnam, from Korea changed forever. They may be missing limbs, they may no longer be able to function in civilian life. Their families may fall apart; significant numbers of veterans end up committing suicide.
Speakers at Memorial Day ceremonies repeat over and over again that veterans made these serious sacrifices so that we might continue to enjoy the freedoms we have. For their defense of our freedoms we thank the veterans.
But surely there is something seriously wrong here. Was Saddam Hussein a threat to American freedoms? Are the Taliban? Saddam Hussein oppressed the people of Iraq. They might thank our soldiers although, seeing the destruction we have wrought in their country since 1991, Iraqis may well be of two minds about that. But Saddam Hussein never was a threat to American institutions.
Even Osama bin Laden, though a threat to American lives, was not a threat to our institutions. We ourselves, our representatives in Congress, chose to limit American freedoms thought the Patriot Act after 9/11. But that was our choice. Bin Laden did not do that. We chose to restrict freedom for the sake of greater security.
Why are we telling lies to ourselves about American soldiers—men sand women—saving our freedom when they did nothing of the sort?
In recent weeks conservative candidates for president have let it be known that they now, by hindsight, consider the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to have been mistakes. We should never have invaded either country they now believe. Candidates for president do not hold opinions that are not shared by significant numbers of voters. These politicians simply echo beliefs widely held by the public.
Many of the people who thank our veterans for protecting our freedoms also believe that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be justified, that, on the whole, they accomplished nothing worthwhile.
It is obvious why they lie about that on the day dedicated to veterans. Many of those who returned alive are still suffering the after-effects of combat. Few of the patriots attending the Memorial Day festivities protested these wars. They were content to have soldiers be seriously injured or even killed, even after it appeared that there were no weapons of mass destruction and Osama bin Laden was not in Afghanistan. They laughed at those of us who protested these wars.
Now they have to admit that they did nothing to stop soldiers being injured in combat when that served no purpose.
Memorial Day is the day of truth. Many honorable men and women incurred life long suffering for no good reason at all. These wars were engineered by a group of men, all of whom had refused to go to war when they were at an age to do that. George Bush, Vice-president Cheney, Wolfowitz—the entire crew of war-mongers—had refused to face combat.
What can we, as a nation, say to the veterans who were sent off into combat for no good reason at all?
That is a terrifying thought that should make all of us feel very guilty. It is true, we owe a great debt to veterans not for what they did for us, but for what we did to them, namely to injure them seriously without good reasons.
On Memorial Day we lie about it. The rest of the year we pass city ordinances forbidding homeless veterans and others from panhandling and we refuse to provide adequate funds for the Veterans' Administration.
It is high time that we stop repeating pious patriotic clichés, taking pictures of parades, and start to tell the truth about these wars and its victims. It is time that we be honest and admit that we failed to end these wars a long time ago, that we failed to save the men and women whom we thank on Memorial Day and make serious efforts to repair the damages we allowed to be done to them.