Memorial Day ramblings

Memorial Day. Sitting here in a favorite café watching as folks stroll in to get a drink and a snack before the parade. Feeling disconnected. I won’t go to the parade. I don’t want the tiny flag to pin to my decidedly not red, white and blue T-shirt. Yes, I want to reflect and honor those that have given life and health in service. But I can’t stomach the celebration of militarism that passes for “remembrance”.

I guess practically every city, and small town has such a parade and has at least one memorial to fallen soldiers. And I guess, it’s good to have statues and parades to remind us that people die in war. But there is more than that. As writer Jose Narosky once said, “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” With that in mind perhaps Memorial day should be a time to demand we also remember those who did not die. Perhaps the best way to honor those that gave their lives (or had them taken ) is to fight for those that live.

For example; Veterans comprise one-fourth to one-fifth of the homeless population. 131,000 veterans were homeless in 2008. Really want to honor veterans ? Work to end homelessness. Or work for universal health care — including mental health care. An under funded VA, and a reluctance of military leaders to acknowledge PTSD and other war deployment health issues has contributed to an ever increasing amount of substance abuse, suicides and former military men and women in prison.

And we know, that those who sacrifice and lose the most have the least to gain from war. Those who call the shots, are those that benefit the most — and almost always sacrifice and lose the least. It seems we need to also remember that on this memorial day.

As we pause to remember those military men and women who have died let us also remember the civilian deaths. These men, women and children who are victims of wars are no less worthy and no less deserving of a moment to honor their humanity. No matter what their nationality. And the numbers are astounding.

According to a commemorative 2010 Memorial Day Bookmark Veterans For Peace issued

War 

U.S. Military Deaths

 

Civilian Deaths

 

Revolutionary 

25,174

(unavailable)

1812 

20,000

(unavailable)

Civil War 

620,000

50,000

WWI 

116,516

6,458,886

WWII 

405,399

36,372,900*

Korean 

54,246

1,847,240

Vietnam 

58,177

2,000,000**

Iraq 

4,254

1,366,350

Afghanistan 

1,036

32,969

TOTAL 

1,304,802

 

48,128,345

 

     

It seems to me we must never forget these civilian deaths. Each of their lives is precious and sacred.

At the same time, I understand the need to honor the soldiers. To honor the warriors. We pause to honor soldiers each Memorial Day because, regardless of our belief in the immorality of war we honor those women and men because they died for a cause they saw as larger than themselves. No matter whether they became soldiers to take care of their families or lost their lives defending buddies and comrades. No matter if they joined because they were drafted (legally or economically ) or if they believed in the mission, it seems right to reflect on those who lost their lives in this way.

But let us remember also that not all wars are military missions and not all warriors wear a uniform. If memorial day is to honor those that died in the service of their country then those civil rights leaders, and labor leaders and those who have struggled for social change also qualify. Were not those that joined the freedom rides warriors? Were those that fought for an 8 hour work day and the right to form a union any less “in the service of our nation”?

There are so many people who have fought for our rights – fought for “liberty and justice for all” who did not carry guns and weapons into the battlefield but the tools of nonviolence and a willingness to give their safety, their comfort and at times their lives for these causes larger than themselves.

And so this memorial day I take a moment to honor Ferdinando Nicola Sacco, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Diane Nash, Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, John Lewis, Howard Zinn, Shirley Chisholm, Rosa Parks and so many many more. Many nameless and unknown to our history books, but none the less courageous and inspiring.

With all this in mind, perhaps Memorial Day should really be a day to demand peace and justice, a day to demand an end to a military-industrial complex that eats away nearly half of the nation’s general funds, and along with those dollars so much more. Perhaps Memorial day should be a day to work for an end to the injustices that breed war and to commit to real alternatives to militarism and violence as “a solution”. A day to honor those that came before us and to (as Martin Luther King said so wisely) “rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful struggle for a new world.”

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