Each year, I go out to the office supply store and get a day planner. Yes, I still use old-fashioned paper for such things. It’s an old habit I can’t let go of. Once I get the calendar home, the first thing I do is sit down and scratch out the names of all the holidays which I do not recognize. This consists of almost all Hallmark- and government-created holidays, including Memorial Day.
As a kid in the marching band, I was required to be at the local Memorial Day parade every year, where I got to see and hear dreadful displays of narcissistic nationalism. Long before I was old enough to vote, I was calling this “World War II Veterans are Better than Everyone Else Day.” I developed that attitude from listening to the ridiculous speeches that were delivered during the post-parade memorial service from a platform in the middle of the largest cemetery in town. This is such a popular event that the town built a permanent platform that remains in the cemetery year-round. At any rate, listening to war veterans congratulate themselves was quite the turnoff, and perhaps a distraction as well. The dead were not mentioned so much; rather, “heroism” was discussed. Is this the nervous chatter that fills the silent void that might prompt us to ask, “Why did these men have to die?”
I am presently on a short break from the big, noisy city, and the people where I’m staying had the evening news on. Almost the entire show was spent on Memorial Day and on lauding the troops. Heroism this and heroism that. More of the same narcissistic nationalism. Years ago—unless I’m sorely mistaken—the news spent perhaps five minutes on some patriotic pablum, but tonight was ridiculous. Are we repeating these things to ourselves in an attempt to be convinced that the religion of Americanism is true? As it is written in the sacred scrolls of conventional wisdom, “The lady doth protest too much.”
No one likes to admit that some people die in vain, or that they died working as an accessory to evil (however much they might not have realized nor had a say in it), and we human beings will go a very long way to avoid coming to that conclusion. We will even resort to lauding the State. Even Masses in the Catholic Church on this day, which arguably should make use of the Office of the Dead, have in most places deteriorated into an excuse to sing Battle Hymn of the Republic and make the organist work during yet another family gathering. This seems to be what Memorial Day is about: we shut our eyes and ears, wave flags and sing patriotic songs while the truth of our foreign military adventures gets lost in the frenzy.
But, my friends, I have hope that the seeds of a reasonable outlook are in the hearts of most men, and that while a proper mindset has yet to be fully realized, there is great potential for it to happen. I find these signs of hope in everything that the angry veteran rails against on patriotic holidays—people drinking and frolicking, people not “pausing to remember,” and those who just go about their business, like the hard-working truck driver that I followed through central Pennsylvania today. To some militarists these people are just thankless, but it seems that they deserve more credit than that. Perhaps they just have a good sense for what is real and what is rubbish.
The U.S. government went into World War I to make the world safe for the false idol of democracy, and today we are still living with the consequences of many of the results of that war and our alliance with a British government whose blockade of the North Sea caused mass starvation in Germany—and an appetite for the fascist Hitler. Don’t forget the Versaille Treaty, either, which was one of the biggest rackets in human history. We went to Vietnam and Korea to prevent communism from spreading, our experts having envisioned doomsday scenarios thought up by proponents of the “domino theory,” though peninsulas would hardly seem to be the kinds of places where the domino effect could produce much disaster. In both cases the wars were failures, and our present policies regarding North Korea continue to lend instability to the safety of the world.
After all of this bumbling around, the VFW marches down Main Street on the last Monday of every May and talks about the efficacy of the sacrifices of the boys who lie in their graves, killed in action. The truth is that the great majority of them died in vain, that they did not need to die. They should never have been taken from their mothers and wives and children to run errands for the tin foil heads in Washington who think that militarism is the way to solve problems, even though history proves that it has never worked. I think this idea—even if only in the form of a faint doubt—lurks in the minds of most Americans, and that is probably why there is so much nervous chatter on Decoration Day.
Lest anyone think otherwise, however, I am open, under certain conditions, to restoring Memorial Day to my calendar. When Memorial Day is about the dangers of the State and its tendency to send young men into battle to be killed for no good reason, I’ll restore my observance of it. When Memorial Day is used as a time to consider the real causes of these wars (which is usually money) and how they’re related not to altruism but to greed, I’ll restore my observance of it. When mountebanks stop congratulating themselves amidst the weeping willows of the local veterans cemetery, and when Americanism is no longer the official religion used to commemorate these dead, as though their dignity is preserved by the State, then I will observe Memorial Day.
Until then, I will continue to drink beer, eat ice cream, and read my Murray Rothbard books.