This morning I noticed that I felt a bit cranky while scrolling through Facebook posts about Memorial Day. I realized that I feel conflicted and struggle to come to terms with what this day and Veteran’s Day represent today. While I believe in honoring those who have died serving the cause of freedom in America, I have issues with continuing to glorify the culture of war proffered by the US Military and the Military-Industrial complex that surrounds both of these holidays.
As the daughter of a US Naval pilot, I grew up hearing stories about flying off of a carrier in the Pacific, both the mishaps and the triumphs. I was proud of my dad’s efforts, proud of his service in the Korean War and his continued service in the reserves. When he put on his uniform to go to Sand Point for monthly inspections, he had a glow about him that the four of us, his children, recognized. We wanted to be part of that glory. He let us help him shine his shoes and polish the patent leather brim of his hat. Finally, he stood at attention for our inspection before leaving. We took our jobs as the pre-inspection team seriously and noted specks of dust or an uneven shine on a shoe even if it was imaginary. When I was very young, it was with pride that I announced to my playmates, “My dad is away flying his airplane for the Navy.”
After he died, it turned out that I was the only one of his four adult children who fit his flight jacket. It hangs in my closet and I still wear it from time to time. I have no problem explaining the patches to boys and sometimes men who ask me about them. It’s a contradiction of which I’m well aware. I know that his time in the Navy was almost sacred. It was where he grew up and where he made his best friends. The Navy paid his way through college. All of this is part of my history, but I believe the time has come for humanity to stop glorifying war, to recognize that while we can hold our history sacred, we can no longer afford to use it as a model for the future.
How do we honor those who have died in the service of freedom while recognizing that their way of serving is no longer effective or even viable?
Personally, I no longer think that the military is an effective way to protect and defend our democracy. Personally, I think that the activists of our era are warriors; those who demonstrate in the streets carrying signs that say, “Black Lives Matter”, “Stop Keystone XL”, “Stop the TPP”, and “ShellNo”, those that demand the removal of big corporate money from politics, the kayaktivists and those who join hands with hundreds of others in and around Elliott Bay in Seattle to protest against Royal Dutch Shell (An Anglo–Dutch multinational oil and gas company headquartered in the Netherlands and incorporated in the United Kingdom) and its plan to drill in the American Arctic with our president’s blessing; these are our warriors for freedom today.
In order for our American Military to reclaim the glory of the past, I believe that it needs to become part of a different narrative: the narrative of serving freedom for humanity as a whole. I think that the glory days, when American servicemen and women abroad were seen as liberators and heroes could be reclaimed if we were to choose to redeploy the bulk of our fighting forces in a different role in areas of the world where they can make a difference fast. What if they were instead the “first responders” in the event of disaster?
The Israeli army and young Nepali survivors were effective relief operators in the early days after the recent earthquakes in Nepal. What if we turned our vast military resources toward the service of humanity? Its impossible for me to know or even imagine the impact that could have, but hard to deny that the special training and resources at the disposal of the US Armed Forces, if given the go ahead to make disaster zones top priority, couldn’t turn the tide of despair before it strikes.
We are all one human family on this threatened planet. On this Memorial Day, I don’t want to perpetuate the glorification of war but honor the value of service in the cause of freedom and look toward a future where this doesn’t mean war but honor and respect for differences in our fellow humans and respect and honor for the earth.