Monday, May 29, 2017

Patriotism & Memorial Day

Let me say this upfront, right off the bat: I am not a big fan of the loud, boisterous version of what passes for patriotism these days, especially here in the United States. Perhaps some people would take exception to my singling my country out in this regard, but in this day and age when so many are grasping onto any and all remaining vestiges of what used to be great about this country, and when many of our so-called leaders are professing their self-serving belief in "American exceptionalism," it seems to me that waving flags and claiming this nation to be number one, or implying that it is somehow superior to all other nations, is rather counterproductive and, in fact, unpatriotic. The whole "America First" ideology is essentially a slap in the face, as well as a spit for good measure, to the rest of the world, and I wish that my fellow Americans would finally grow up and get past this limited and limiting way of thinking.

That is not to say that I am not patriotic. Frankly, I feel myself to be quite patriotic, and hope for and work towards seeing this country truly be the best that it can be. But my version of patriotism would require citizens to actually participate in knowing about the news and issues that effect the country, to indeed be the well-informed citizenry that our forefathers dreamed of for the future of the republic. The anti-intellectualism that seems to win out time and time and time again has grown more than a little stale and tiresome, and illustrates not this nation's greatness, but it's weaknesses in terms of a lack of imagination with trying the same old approach to dynamic and new challenges and opportunities. In short, my faith is strong enough to believe that we can do better, if we actually cared enough to keep informed and involved enough to make it work.

Okay, so that was a mouthful to start this particular blog entry with. Let me get on with this Memorial Day post. 

I believe that a strong reminder came on the radio this weekend about why we celebrate Memorial Day, or perhaps it was a meme (in fact, the more I think about it, the more likely it probably was a meme). Anyway, it showed a picture of a relaxing scene on the beach, and there was a message scrolled on top of this. To paraphrase, it said, roughly: "Your day at the beach is because of their day at the beach." And on the bottom was a black and white picture of the D-Day landings by allied (presumably American) troops during World War II. 

That much is true, and perhaps this is an especially timely message for this Memorial Day, because we are also celebrating the 100th anniversary of World War I. The United States entered that war in the spring of 1917.

Let us also remember that wars like those were likely necessary for the world to remain free. However, wars like that also occurred because of so-called leaders at the time who were hungry for war. We should not forget that people were celebrating in the major cities of all four major powers on the occasion when World War I finally broke out. The leaders of all of these countries led their citizens to believe that these wars would be won quickly, decisively, and relatively painlessly. They also convinced their citizens - especially the young men that were being sent to the fronts - that tremendous glory could be gained, that this war would be an opportunity to achieve serious heroism.

Anyone who knows anything about that war knows that it was the most brutal war that the world had ever seen to that point, and that far from quick and decisive, the war was a complete stalemate. The promises of opportunities for heroism were largely lost, as military leaders led their men into battles that wound up being slaughters, and those who survived often were forced out of the war with unbelievably horrific injuries that would have killed them in wars prior. 

You might think that the world would have learned something after this, or at least Europeans would have, since World War I was fought in Europe. However, one generation later, one particular madman in the very heart of Europe enthusiastically led his nation to start yet another world war. His nation was at first reluctant, and certainly did not celebrate the outbreak of war. However, when Hitler began to win in Poland, and then took over western Europe, Germans celebrated, and Hitler was seen as the savior of Germany. Less than five years later, most German cities were reduced to rubble, and the Germans suddenly had to deal with feeling responsible for horrors unprecedented in history, with the death camps and the systematic, and bureaucratic, abuses that their armies had been responsible for in occupied territories. 

During that same war, another nation was being turned ravenous for glory on the battlefield by their leaders. Japan had turned powerful and became aggressors, and in taking over much of the territories of China and Korea, their were now infamous abuses and horrors that Japanese soldiers were responsible for. These invasions and horrors actually came before World War II officially began, according to Europeans. Yet, it ended up very much the same way, as the Japanese went from enjoying victory after victory on the battlefield, to seeing many of their cities reduced to rubble from massive bombings and even fire bombings. Still, all of that is overshadowed by the two atomic bombs that were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an event that ushered in a whole new age, and the realization of just how horrible these weapons of mass destruction were. From that point on in history, a system of checks and balances on the power of any nation became necessary.

I mention all of this because we seem to be moving dangerously close to another such massive conflict, and even more alarmingly, many of the people living in some of the biggest countries responsible seem almost enthusiastic about the prospect of war. Indeed, we could move towards World War II, except that the extent of the damage that we will likely see during that conflict would likely exceed not only either of the two previous world wars, but most likely far exceed both of them combined. 

Yet, World War III is something that most people seem to think was an inevitability, ever since the end of World War II. Now, we see the rise of Donald Trump here in the United States, and he and his team have mentioned the possibility of using smaller nuclear weapons, and they already used the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan just weeks ago. He likes to talk tough, to appear tough, and has threatened North Korea, and even moved American ships into the region. He also launched a military strike in Syria, and seems to feel that he has an obligation to use America's military might in a very active way. Yes, Trump has been so busy with all of this nonsense, that it is almost surprising to realize that he has only been in office for a little over four months now, and still has most of the four year term left that he was elected to in November.

What's scary is that he's just the leader of the United States. There are other leaders who seem to represent this same anti-democratic, anti-peace sentiment. Leaders such as Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is grabbing more and more power, and effectively eroding democracy. Leaders like President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who has murdered thousands in the name of cleaning up the streets and establishing law and order, and who joked about rape to his soldiers. And, of course, we all know about Vladimir Putin in Russia. No, I do not feel that he is responsible for Trump getting elected president, but I also do not feel that he is good news, for Europe, for the United States, or for the world at large. And let us not even get into North Korea, or Saudi Arabia, or the always existing tensions in Israel, who is also led by a warhawk in Benjamin Netanyahu right now.

Yes, when you look at the world situation right now, it is scary! We have irresponsible leaders and, frankly, an irresponsible system that essentially make a profit machine for war toys. That is why we have wars still to this day, because it is profitable. Greed, which our President Trump strongly believes in, continues to make the world a more dangerous and miserable place.

All of this is why we need to remember not only the sacrifices of our veterans, but also the importance of taking a serious approach when it comes to issues concerning our nation. When I said that being an informed citizen is my interpretation of patriotism, I meant it. Just this past weekend, I was invited to a barbecue, and one of the guys there is a Trump fan. He said that he enjoyed the video of Trump shoving Montenegro's Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, and said that this bullying mentality was what he liked about Trump. This guy's girlfriend responded that it was classless. Hopefully, that kind of opposition from someone so close will make him think a little bit, but I would not hold my breath if I were her.

The sad truth of the matter is that here in the United States, far and away the biggest producer of weapons that the world has ever seen, many, if not most, Americans believe in war, because they have grown used to wars where so-called leaders bombs the crap out of people in faraway lands. Sometimes, this is given a fancy name that people can rally behind, like "Shock and Awe." But by and large, Americans like to hear that their responsible leaders go to foreign nations to kick some ass every now and then. Many Americans who prefer peace do not want to believe that so many of their fellow Americans - surely numbering in at least the tens of millions - actually like war. But the popularity of our military interventions, such as the invasion of Grenada, the invasion of Panama, the two wars in Iraq (at least the initial popularity of the second invasion, before that war became a quagmire), and other military operations suggests that, indeed, many millions of Americans very much like war, and want their nation to engage in it.

Sadly, the irony of all of this is that many, if not most, of these people would likely profess to be Christians, as if Jesus would have favored these wars, and this mentality. As if Jesus would have approved of a man like Donald Trump being the elected leader of the land, and trying to get excess and greed back in vogue. As if Jesus ever espoused the virtues of bullying, arrogance, and ignorance.

Indeed, these are times of mediocrity, frankly. The mediocre leaders that I mentioned are simply a reflection of mediocrity among the people at large, and this makes for potentially dangerous times, if and when things really hit the fan.

That is why, on this Memorial Day, it seems at least as important to me, if not perhaps more important, to not only honor the memory of the dead lost in our wars, but also to give serious thought as to why they were fighting in wars to begin with in order to give the ultimate sacrifice. It seems to me that the best and most patriotic thing that we can do is to give serious thought to the issues of our times, and to always, always try and avoid war whenever possible, and to truly make it what most people who truly have felt the horrors of war know more than anyone else: that war should always be the last and final option to resolve differences, after every other option has been completely exhausted. Until that happens, these kinds of patriotic holidays and sentiments to honor the nation's fallen veterans will always be tinged with a measure of hypocrisy, for the sentiment that saw them suffer and die will remain very much intact.

Below is a brief blog entry that I published on the meaning of Memorial Day, which effectively was to introduce a link to an article that I thought was worth reading:

The Origins of Memorial Day published May 26, 2014:

Now, I'll admit that I never really knew the origins of Memorial Day until I read this article.

No, that does not mean that I simply thought of it as a vacation day, or a day of barbecue and summer fun. I knew it had more reason than that.

But that it is a holiday that was originally created to honor black troops specifically, that much I did not know, admittedly.

Things you never know, until someone sheds some light on them.

And so, I felt it was something that deserved sharing, and I am helping to spread the word, so that more people understand the truth of the origins of this national holiday.

Forgetting Why We Remember by New York Times Op/Ed Contributor David W. Blight, May 29, 2011:


  1. I recommend checking out this link (URLs continue to not work here, but please copy and paste it – it's worth it, and ties in with much of what you're saying here). It's a Bill Maher piece from way back in 2009, in which he admonishes people for essentially the same things you're doing here: jingoistically wrapping oneself in the flag, intellectual laziness, complacency, and the assumption that we're number one in every conceivable category that matters, which is demonstrably untrue. (He also throws in a couple of lame jokes about the Brazilian bikini wax and soccer, but that doesn't take away from the valid points he makes in this clip.)

  2. Here's another Maher clip from that same year. It's even better than the first one in my view. It involves the rampant stupidity in this country. [For the sake of full disclosure, I'm guilty of one of the things he mentions here: not being able to name my state's members of congress.] But most of the examples he cites are far more alarming than that. See for yourself: