Perhaps some may find what I will argue below as disrespectful, especially coming from a veteran who participated and lost comrades in the American War in Vietnam. But it must be said. How Memorial Day is currently observed does not, in my view, fulfill its intended purpose—that is, as a day of remembrance, reflection, and appreciation for the sacrifices of those who fought and died in this nation’s all too numerous wars.
By Camillo Mac Bica
With its focus on picnics, barbecues, and sales at the mall, Memorial Day has become primarily a celebration of the unofficial start of summer and a festival of consumerism and greed. Perhaps most regrettably, it is an expression of faux patriotism that further exploits the sacrifices of the slain and the grief of their family members and friends to encourage militarism and perpetuate a mythology that misrepresents as heroism and nobility the savagery and insanity of war, in many, if not most cases, unnecessary and immoral war. In reality, Memorial Day has significance and meaning primarily for those relatively few who experienced war themselves or suffered the loss of friends and family members.
If you wish someone a happy Memorial Day, you fail to understand its true meaning.
March of Folly
Between the barbecues and trips to the mall, celebrants may allege to express their appreciation and gratitude by attending a “remembrance event” and applauding enthusiastically as a high school band, a local scout troop, and a contingent of aging veterans in ill-fitting military uniforms, march by in a parade of their creation before retreating to their local American Legion Post for an afternoon of drinking and commiserating about their beloved comrades whose suffering and deaths accomplished nothing.
Many march to remember, others to forget.
But for those who truly know war
and suffer its consequences,
no ceremony or parade is necessary
as the memories,
the images of war,
and the faces of our comrades wasted in battle
visit us each night in our dreams.
Nor do ceremonies and parades
help us to put to rest
the turmoil of a life interrupted
and devastated by war,
or to forget the killing and the dying.
Memorial Day ceremonies and parades accomplish nothing,
save to allow those who make war easily
or distance themselves from its insanity and horror
to feign support and appreciation
and to relieve their collective guilt
for immoral war and crimes against humanity.
Nor do ceremonies and parades
educate, inform, or lessen the burden of loss.
Rather they celebrate and perpetuate
the myth of honor and glory,
and “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
I shall march no more.
If you thank a veteran for her “service” in war you fail to understand what living with the experience entails.
Air Shows: Celebrating the Military’s High-Tech Weaponry of Death and Destruction
For those whose Memorial Day observance includes attending an airshow extravaganza, celebrants experience what is, for all intents and purposes, a mobile military circus and amusement arcade. In addition to “enjoying” the thrills and excitement of precision aerial acrobatics and simulated bombing runs performed by the U. S. Airforce’s “Thunderbirds” or the Navy’s “Blue Angels,” attendees, some as young as ten years old, need only enter their contact information into the military database to receive an array of propaganda, recruitment material, and many sought-after souvenirs – personalized dog tags, T-shirts, hats, footballs, etc. To excite even greater interest, passersby are invited to operate remote control robotic devices through a “battlefield” obstacle course, “pilot” an Apache helicopter flight simulator, participate in a fully immersive, adrenaline-pumping, and highly realistic, virtual “Humvee mission experience” in which they engage “insurgents” and kill them.
Sadly, what goes unnoticed is the insidiousness of these Memorial Day activities and the mythology it perpetuates. First, celebrants and their children are conditioned to view war and military service as entertainment, desensitizing them to killing and dying, and encouraging their support and involvement, with the eager recruiters always close at hand. Second, misrepresenting war as honorable and heroic encourages the next generation of cannon fodder to contemplate enlisting in military “service”. Third, memorializing those injured and killed in war makes honest and critical conversations about American foreign policy less likely, eliciting instead enthusiastic support for sending our military to faraway battlefields to “quell” what in many cases are manufactured crises. Fourth, by affording hero status to members of the military and veterans, it provides an “illusory refuge” of sorts, whereby veterans may avoid facing the reality and the trauma of their experiences in war, a task that is crucial if they are to rehabilitate and achieve some semblance of normalcy in their lives. Finally, faux gratitude and support mask the reality of the scandalous way in which this nation ignores the needs of its returning warriors and veterans. Tens of thousands of American soldiers go untreated or undertreated for the injuries they have sustained in combat, including Traumatic Brain Injury (the “signature wound” of Iraq and Afghanistan), Post Traumatic Stress, and Moral Injury, all devastating and disabling injuries that often require lifelong care. Since 9/11, the number of veterans and active-duty military dying from suicide is 4 times higher than the number of those killed in combat.
Tragically, we have been conditioned to ignore what we have become. We live in a culture where violent video games have replaced Mr. Rogers as entertainment for our children; where the youngest and most impressionable among us cyber-kill virtual human beings for amusement, to occupy their time, and as a means to prepare them to become weapons in a perpetual war that goes unquestioned; where violence has replaced diplomacy; where torture is condoned; where truth-telling (“whistleblowing”) is a crime warranting imprisonment and solitary confinement; where murder is celebrated as a positive achievement of leadership; where drones summarily execute human beings without trial, accusation, and with little outrage; and where the adoration of the weapons and technology of killing and destruction is “guaranteed” by the 2nd Amendment and to honor those wasted in war. We have lost our moral compass and have become a culture of hate, greed, and violence—killing our own as we kill others.
It is time, long past time, that we reject this mythology and the continued exploitation and commercialization of the memory of those sacrificed in war and the suffering of their families to enhance militarism, consumerism, and profit. Instead, we must acknowledge and grieve the waste of ALL human life, at least, (perhaps of ALL living entities), not with feigned expressions of patriotism, gratitude, and appreciation, but by renewing our commitment to peace, by educating the public about the realities of war, by bringing our troops home immediately from the 750 military bases it occupies in over 80 countries around the world, and by ensuring that they receive adequate and effective treatment for their physical, emotional, psychological and moral well-being upon their return.
Camillo Mac Bica, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy and ethics at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. His philosophical focus is in Applied Ethics, particularly the relationship between war, morality, and healing. Dr. Bica is a former United States Marine Corps Officer and veteran of the Vietnam War. He is a long time activist for peace and justice, a member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and Coordinator of the Long Island Chapter of Veterans for Peace. In addition to the three books published thus far in his War Legacy Series, Dr. Bica’s writings have appeared in numerous philosophical journals and online alternative news sites.