Memorial Day redux

May 30, 2007 by barbara

Eastern Woman sent the following email to LeftyMN, attaching a letter written by the soldier son of a work colleague.

Here's her e-note:

"I have to share this with you for some perspective. This letter is from the son of a work friend. I meant to send it earlier.

"On Memorial Day, I went to the cemetery for the annual services. I was quite moved as the speaker--an anti-war friend of mine--spoke eloquently about the local boys who went to war and lost their lives. He named all those who are already serving in the Middle East or who will be going there soon. He did a great job and made the point that it's also a duty to stand up against those with whom we might not agree about the war because that, too, is patriotic.

"Finally we heard Taps played once and then again in the distance like an echo unseen by anyone. It was very moving."

This is the soldier's letter that Eastern Woman sent with her note:

Letter from the sandbox
"I do not know where or how to begin but here it goes. Every day I wake up in a country of millions that would love to make it my last. My job is a very important part of trying to make this hell-hole a better place. Whether it is blowing up houses where insurgents live or just plain blowing everything up when our brothers get pinned down and are counting on us to make it through another day.

"Right now it is about 110 degrees and I work a 24-hour shift and of that time I get about 5 hours to sleep. My time off is spent doing hygiene, laundry, and trying to relax. Do I like the Army? No, but I love what I do in it. We are called King of Battle for a reason.

"I am really good at what I do, but even you know that I've always been good at everything I do. When I leave this place, I will have been here for 15 months. By being over here I have seen people I know gone in a heartbeat.

"The point I'm trying to get at is life is way too short. There are no
guarantees and yesterday is gone. You can't change the past so there's no use being in it, and there might not be a future. All we have is this very moment and some don't even have that.

"I know that I have made mistakes in the past. Things seemed to never go my way, but that's just how life is. I feel like I shouldn't have walked away when I rolled my truck and other situations.

"I know I am here for a reason. I will probably spend my life trying to figure out why and still probably never find out. I put my faith in God and know that he has and will always take care of me. I'm trying not to live my life in regret or in wonderment. If I stumble in life, I will always get back up and then it just becomes another chapter in it.

"Don't worry about me, I'll be okay.

"Love (from your son)"

LeftyMN responds:

My thinking about war and this country has been changing a lot in the past three years. It's being crystallized by the book I am reading, "The Dominion of War," by Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton.

The book's thesis is that America is a country in which war is one of, if not "the," dominating factor(s) in our existence as a nation. War for Americans is considered a necessity to defend our "freedom" and liberty, or in the case of even so-called "just" wars (WWII), to defend the freedom and liberty of others or the world. This notion is also historically combined with the concept of divine providence and we place religious ministers within our armed forces to provide religious justification for our pure motives.

I honestly believe the concept is so strong that it impinges on the
current politics of this war. On the one hand, more than 65% of our population thinks Iraq was a mistake that is being mishandled, that is going badly, and that we should withdraw in the next year.

On the other hand, because we view our military actions as a defense of our liberty, or in the guise of an altruistic liberation of people who are under domination, it's easy for the supporters of the Iraq war to claim we must support our troops who are idealistic defenders of freedom when they are in the field.

In fact, the action in Iraq cannot be viewed for what it truly is in our
collective psyche, a brash, imperialistic grab for control of the Middle East balance of power and protection of the oil resources in that area. Oil for our consumption, and of course the protection of the profit flow for oil companies and the entire American economy that depends on cheap and constant access to petroleum. Think for a minute about the attractive plastic packaging on so many products we casually throw away.

It therefore is problematic to disengage from Iraq because we as a nation cannot admit that we went into Iraq for reasons that had nothing to do with honor, liberty or freedom.

I do not seek to dishonor the service of the men and women of the
Military. I respect most of those who undertake this dangerous job.
But the letter above from a soldier in the field is very disturbing.

I believe it is representative of a certain portion of our troops in Iraq. In it are intertwined the concepts of "blowing everything up" with making Iraq a better place and finally with the notion that God will protect the soldier, which essentially makes the soldier a tool of God's designs. Should the same God not also protect the innocent Iraqi citizen blown up by that soldier or by a suicide bomber?

I do not seek to disrespect those who have died in battle. But perhaps we need to recollect Memorial Day, its trappings of patriotism, God, and pageantry for what they might actually be--a glorification and memorialization of the use of violence and might, not to protect our freedom, but rather to protect our way of life.

Our way of life is overwhelmingly mired in the consumption of 25% of the world's resources(and the profits to be made in and around that consumption) as our birthright because we are a divinely inspired nation. We claim ourselves "conceived in liberty." Our battlefields from Gettysburg to Fallen Timbers to Normandy to Chosun to Danang to Fallujah are "consecrated" and every battle in which Americans take part is ordained "under God" to be another event that gives "birth to freedom."

From 1492 to 2007, the common theme of our history is that violence and bloodshed has accompanied our expansion and well-being as a nation. If you doubt it, ask the Native Americans or Filipinos or Vietnamese or Iraqis. That makes us no more exceptional or divinely guided than the Old World countries whose histories are the same. We only seek to close our eyes to the reality by making fine speeches and playing "Taps" sublimely in our continuing delusion.

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Comments

perhansa (not verified) | May 30, 2007 - 8:19pm

I don't think America is at all unique in this regard. It's the history of humankind--one war after another, whether it's over oil or religion or race or land or resources. Every nation glorifies the "warrior" and remembers those who have died for the "motherland" or "fatherland" or "freedom" or whatever. Human myths are full of battles, conflicts, conquests. The gods war over the our devotion, our alliance, the heavens, our souls, etc. We write about it. Tell stories about it. Celebrate it. Glorify it. Perform plays about it. Make movies about it. Fund it. War is good business. War is as dominating and resilient as religion. Perhaps they spring from the same mental processes. The military class has existed as long as agrarian culture has existed. Maybe we just need to admit--man is a violent animal, war is in our genes, and we kill our own to a degree unknown anywhere else in the animal kingdom. Perhaps it has to do, as Arthur Koestler suggests, with the "brain explosion." Perhaps...

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Barbara aka Babs (not verified) | May 31, 2007 - 7:41am

You're right, of course. But somehow in my/our naivete, there lurks the hope (or used to) that America is better than that. And it is naive, no doubt about it. Nature of the beasties, I guess. It's deeply disturbing, though, that our country has taken the glorification of war and ratcheted it up to a thing of honor without meaning a word of it. Somewhere along the line, it stopped being about freedom and justice, even peripherally, and turned into the means to other ends. 'Twas ever thus, I suppose, throughout history. But the God I was raised to revere and the Bible that was the handbook of the church in which I was confirmed never said, "Blessed are those who wage war." Far as I recall, anyway. It's been a while.

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Anonymous (not verified) | May 31, 2007 - 9:25am

"Far as I recall, anyway. It's been a while."

WHY?

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perhansa (not verified) | May 31, 2007 - 9:55am

Barbara can answer for herself but I'll say the bible I was indoctrinated in has an Old Testament filled with glorified and sanctioned killing, war, slavery, etc. both as brutal and graphic as any piece of ancient literature. One could surely make a strong case the bible sanctions killing as often as peace. The new testament is also filled with apocalyptic violence in Revelation, Jesus saying he came not to bring peace but a sword, and Saul of Tarsus spreading his prejudices and hatreds throughout his letters and epistles. The bible is a collection of tribal books written at different times under different conditions (not god's revelation) by apologists for a changing set of dogmas and political needs, and can be used to promote most anything you want. Thus, it has no more authority for me than Homer's Odyssey or the Tales of Gilgamesh or the Tao te Ching.

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Anonymous (not verified) | May 31, 2007 - 10:03am

Possibly...........The World has always been violent and filled with death and suffering...not much has changed. I will continue to live by the Lord and His commandments in the Faith of the Hereafter : If I am wrong, I will still have lived a life with Honor and purpose.

If you are wrong......?

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perhansa (not verified) | May 31, 2007 - 1:59pm

No disrespect meant but I think Pascal's Wager is bad bet. You have to pick a god and if you picked the wrong one...? There are over 100,000 active religions in the world today--which one you gonna choose? Secondly, is it really faith or gambling? Too many gods and they all say different things to different people, and only one lifetime to choose...sounds like the odds you get at the casino to me. The "House" always comes out ahead.

Finally, too many waste a good chunk of the here-and-now waiting for the hereafter. Be that as it may, Anne Lamont once said, "You know you've created god in your own image when he hates the same people you do." The writers of the books that made it into the bible clearly created god in their own image--as did the ones who wrote the books that got rejection notices from the catholic hierarchy.

But this is a country of religious freedom (or freedom to practice no religion) so we each get to choose. I don't know with absolute certainty what's beyond the grave but the vast majority of the evidence is clearly on the side of nothing. I guess that's why it's called "faith" and "hope"--reason and evidence lead me to a very different conclusion.

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leftymn (not verified) | May 31, 2007 - 10:09am

Perhansa
America is different as we proclaim ourselves the inventors of a state that proclaims Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness and extolls the rights of the individual over those of the state in the Bill of Rights. Ancient empires and European expansionism was done in a time of empire and kings.. (it ended in 1914 ) not in the name of democracy. The key difference is americans see themselves naively as not imperial or expansionist... we fight to deliver liberty and democracy, the mercantilist empires of Spain, Holland, England, France and Russia, and 20th Century Japan made no such pretensions. (Nazi Germany was more like the USA, it created myths of the "volk" and the Germansuperiority to justify its transgressions internally; though I do not at all compare the USA with Nazi Germany)
My fear is that this legacy of delusion disables the nation from being able to sensibly disengage from Iraq at this time, but also our way of life (consuming 25% of the worlds resources as a birthright albeit nowadays on Chinese credit) is so intertwined with this notion of American exceptionalism and when wedded to our overwhelming military might and naive view of military use as liberating it will continue to make mistakes like Iraq again and again.

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perhansa (not verified) | May 31, 2007 - 2:13pm

Poet:
You know your history better than I.

I agree that America has a unique sense of "divine mission" and unwarranted exceptionalism. It also has a strong sense of "entitlement" as a result. That is a dangerous pretense when the government is in the hands of ideological expansionists like the neo-cons. I think the next President will be forced to end our Iraq debacle whether Dem or Republican. It's too draining on the national budget, psyche, and our ability to be effective in the rest of the world. America is its' people, and, as a whole, I don't think the majority of us are expansionist--just the opposite (isolationist or ignorant and unconcerned about the rest of the world). Typically, we reluctantly join wars to fight for truth, liberty and the democratic way. We rarely start the conflict (like we did in Iraq & Afghanistan). In the long view of history I think George Bush will be a sad and sorry anomaly brought in by a "perfect storm" of circumstances and events and the neo-con nation building exercise will fade into our more typical inattentiveness. In some sense, we can be glad W is such an incompetent fool or the next President might also have been named Bush. Unfortunately, we'll be paying for this fools folly for many years to come.

I'm not a historian so I could be all wet. Just my initial reaction and thoughts.

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