Monday, May 25, 2009

Waltzing Matilda

And the old men march slowly, all bones stiff and sore,
They're tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"
And I ask meself the same question.

The passage above is from Eric Bogle's 1971 Waltizing Matilda, in which a maimed Australian veteran recounts the horrors of a battle in WWI that left him both physically and mentally wounded for life. As he ponders on the seeming futility of it all at the twilight of his life, he both mourns his own loss and expresses disdain for the glorification of warfare. As we in the U.S. come upon another Memorial Day, Bogle's lament from almost four decades past echoes with resonance.

More after the fold...

Memorial Day has become one of those sacrosanct holidays, where it is considered in good form to mourn and celebrate the dead of wars past. From televsion to public ceremonies, there will be depictions of heroic soldiers who served and those who fell in the line of duty. And virtues like "freedom" and "honor" will fill the air. But beneath the pride and the sadness, what will be missing from this Memorial Day--as is so often the case--is any serious examination on why such a holiday exists in the first place.

Since its inception the United States has fought a series of wars across the globe. Some were in greater conflicts not of our making, which we often look to with the fondest memories. Others however we either inserted ourselves into, or initiated, for reasons that are no more clear today than they were at the time. More than a few, we simply push into our collective amnesia, trying to forget seeming humiliations.

Yet under the theme of Memorial Day, all these wars, battles and invasions are celebrated as "just" and "moral." Even the dead of the Civil War are honored on both sides, as if it didn't really matter which side won in the end. Odd that on a day to remember the dead of war, we don't sit down and honestly ask ourselves if they died for something noble, or if many may have died for lies, plunder, jingoism or worse. Are all causes really just? And what of the other dead, those on the receiving end of our military machine who lay strewn across continents--from Panama to Vietnam--in the hundreds and millions? Where do they fit into our collective memoralizing?

Do we learn anything from our past? As I sit here typing this now, the U.S. is occupying Iraq, ramping up a war in Afghanistan, sending predator drones to attack villages in Pakistan, has a chain of military bases ringing the globe and is feeding our Pentagon-military-industrial-complex billions to mass produce new hideous weaponry to find new ways to cause carnage. Does any of our memories and honoring of the dead of wars past help us to make better decisions regarding the wars of the present and those that may come? Or do we take Memorial Day so seriously because we have decided to exist in a perpetual state of warfare that will continue to offer us up more and more dead?

As media critic Norman Solomon notes:

In the truncated media universe of Memorial Day, the act of remembering bypasses any history that indicates an American war was not inevitable and unavoidable. The populace is made to understand that God and nature must be death dealers. We are encouraged to extol those who bravely gave their lives and took the lives of others -- but not confront those, high in the U.S. government's executive and legislative branches, who cravenly gave their fervent blessings to gratuitous carnage.

For the rest of Solomon's article, The Silent Media Curse of Memorial Day, go here.

And view the documentary War Made Easy.


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