Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. . . . Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May.
Monday, May 27 2013 will be my 71st Memorial Day, although I confess that I don’t celebrate (and never really have) the occasion a whole lot, given that no one in my extended or immediate family was ever injured or killed in any war. In fact, only a scant handful of the two to three generations that preceded me and my time in this country have ever served in its military at all. As my dad and his brothers liked to say, each was “too young for the First World War and too old for the Second.”
War. During my lifetime, there have been far too many of the damnable things: nine at least, and if one should care to count American-orchestrated and subversive insurrections around the globe, there would undoubtedly be many more. And that’s only what’s gone down since the day I was born in 1942, ten months plus a couple of weeks after Pearl Harbor. That (aptly named) “Second World War” ended in early September, 1945, and was soon followed by a pair of ‘big’ wars, first in Korea, then in Vietnam. After Vietnam, there was a near ten year hiatus prior to Reagan’s “heroic” adventure in Grenada which was followed a few years hence by Poppy Bush’s similarly “heroic” adventures in Panama and the Persian Gulf. Then came Bosnia, and early in this century up popped both Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, more than ten years following the first shots, we’re STILL in Afghanistan — and still dying there; it’s now the longest war in American history (and also probably the stupidest as well . . . if, of course, all wars aren’t equally stupid). And sadder yet, in Washington there remains the hue and cry from the (mostly) right wing warmongers for even MORE wars; Syria, Iran, North Korea . . . choose one, choose all. I suspect “all” would be the safest bet amongst that bevy of fools.
Q: Why? What is it about war that so intrigues so many, so often?
A: There’s money in it. Lots of money. And of course with money comes power. Money and power: the two major factors that constantly drive the human species to the cliff’s edge. Some will proclaim, of course, that war’s sole purpose is ‘the defense of liberty,’ but they are, each and all, filled to the brim with not much that’s useful. Money and power ALWAYS come before the ‘defense’ of virtually anything honorable, ‘liberty’ included.
I was just a little feller when the Second World War ended, and I don’t remember much if anything about it at all, other than a visage or two from the aftermath. There was the fellow who lived a few doors up the street who was missing both legs, who maneuvered around town in rain, snow, or shine in his wheelchair, that sort of thing. “His legs got blown off in the war,” was the only answer I’d ever get.
My recollections of the Korean War are foggy, and largely consist of memories of listening to names of state (Minnesota) casualties on the radio each morning before school, during breakfast. I do recall, however, the end of the war in Korea. It happened (as promised during the 1952 election campaign) no more than six months after Eisenhower’s January 1953 inauguration. I also remember, quite vividly, the list of names that were judged to be ‘turncoats’, i.e. servicemen who were captured and held in N. Korea during the war and who, after the cease fire, claimed that no, they didn’t wish to go home to the USA again. I remember that particular event because one of the ‘turncoats’ was the uncle of one of my boyhood best buddies, the brother of his dad who was our neighbor directly across the street.
Then came Vietnam. MY war. Well, sort of at least. I was ‘scheduled’ by the Selective Service to be tossed into the middle of it early-on (summer of 1965) had I not managed to beat the draft by dropping out of graduate school and taking a job in the Research Department of a company that dealt exclusively in Defense Department R&D programs on biological and chemical warfare weaponry. My boss called it a “critical industry deferment.” It worked. Any port in a storm, someone once said.
Tens of thousands of other young men were not so lucky, however. The final (American) death toll in The Nam was just shy of 60,000, and that doesn’t count the much larger number of those who were wounded, maimed, disabled, and victimized by all of the other horrors implicit in war. Nor does it count the million (or more) Vietnamese who lost their lives, or the other millions wounded, disabled, crippled, or worse, genetically impaired thanks to some of the chemical agents used by the US in Vietnam . . . including some stuff that I worked on in a weapons R&D environment. It sickens me to even think about it.
And for what? “Defense of Liberty”? Hardly. We simply inserted ourselves into the middle of what was a Vietnamese Civil War, a war between the north and the south (sounds vaguely familiar, for some reason or other). We were there for only two reasons: to benefit those who stood to gain . . . to gain Money. To gain Power. One of Lyndon Johnson’s first actions as President was apparently to rescind the National Security Action Memo proffered by his predecessor, John F. Kennedy just one month prior to his assassination; it was an order to, in effect, stand down in Vietnam, to pull out all American “advisors” by the end of 1964 or ’65. Johnson chose the other option: escalation, a process which moved into fast-forward mode in August 1964 with the (entirely bogus) Gulf of Tonkin (so-called) “Incident.” One has to wonder just why that was. Could it be that JFK was assassinated because of his apparent unwillingness to go to war with Cuba to overthrow Castro? Or to engage the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis? Or maybe because he wanted to cease involvement in Vietnam before it really got started? Before anyone could profit from it? Or gain power? Perhaps history will one day reveal, but I’ll not hold my breath in anticipation.
So here we are once again on the edge of the Memorial Day weekend, awaiting that day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. In remembrance of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, of those who themselves never started a war, but chose or were chosen to engage nevertheless, including the hundreds of thousands of victims of MY War, victims who included boyhood and college friends and acquaintances . . . victims whose names are inscribed on that Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. What follows is for them. Each of them, all of them. R.I.P.
The Vietnam Memorial
Embedded in the ground, a blackened stone
Pays tribute to the fallen – those described
As hallowed dead – their souls departed, gone,
Now ashes in the wind. Their names – inscribed
Precisely – carved as if by hand of God
To ornament the rock, still whisper words
Of love to friends who seem to find it odd
That stone can weep, and too, the songs of birds.
There is no glory buried here beneath
This blackened stone, nor flesh, nor bones. But still,
One feels that sculpted names did each bequeath
A challenge only living can fulfill -
Exist in peace with all upon your Earth,
Since you won’t know, till death, what Life was worth.
The Vietnam Memorial II
a whisper from the wall
The flowers in the vase allay my fears.
She placed them, quite precisely, near my name
Here etched in stone. Her eyes are filled with tears,
Full knowing that it’s I who’ve lost the game
Of life, my place on Earth reduced to this.
I pray she knows our Spirits still are one,
That touch, and tears, and even winsome kiss
Remain forever locked, though breath is gone.
It’s peaceful here despite the constant pain
Of losing her. How easier for birds
To sing, for blackened clouds to spill their rain,
Than through this stone it is to speak these words:
I love you still, you’re always part of me
And that can’t change – in this Eternity.
As a final thought, a suggestion: by all means, may we always and forever keep Memorial Day as that day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. In turn, maybe we might add another facet and, by our remembrances perhaps we could also dedicate ourselves — each and every one of us — to finding the means of FOREVER ENDING ALL WARS!! I know, we’ll never get the power-vested moneybags to go along with us, nor will we ever convince the warmongering wingnut fools that ‘defense of liberty’ via mass murder of others is really not much of a virtue; but still, aren’t those fools substantially outnumbered by people who care for others, who care for this earth, their home? If not, if ’tis true that the power hungry money-changers do indeed ‘own’ the temple, then it’s too late in any case . . . at which point we may as well simply ‘celebrate’ “In Memory of . . . Memorial Day.”
Open Thread. Speak Up. Speak Out. END ALL WARS, or whatever.