The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Monday, May 28, 2018

How To Memorialize (and De-Mythologize) Memorial Day

When people join the military, they promise to follow obediently the chain of command. We know this. What we rarely talk about is that there is an equal responsibility on the other side. We as a society enter into a social contract with soldiers and promise to make sure that we only ask them to do things that are good, noble and decent. They trust us with their very lives, after all.

There is a lot of talk about how our soldiers have supposedly earned our freedoms in this country through their blood. It is quoted so often it is basically assumed to be true. Yet, I don't think there is much evidence at all for this claim.

And what exactly are these "freedoms" we like to talk about? Few people can actually articulate what that even means. I see Native Americans trapped on reservations. I see African Americans harassed through mass incarceration and police brutality and lack of opportunities in employment, housing, you name it. I see forced patriotism as evidenced by the NFL banning protest. Many Americans would be afraid to say what I'm saying here out of fear of backlash for questioning the national mythology--what kind of freedom is that? I see millions of Americans in virtual third world status crippled with poverty, bankruptcies, student loans and lack of access to medical care, despite being the "richest nation on earth."

In light of all that, we have soldiers in the Middle East (and just about everywhere else)... doing what, exactly? Millions dead, disabled and in disarray in the aftermath of our various military campaigns. Just to give one example out of many: Over a million dead in Iraq with the once proud country in shambles... do you actually think we did that to free the people from the tyranny of Saddam? More of them were alive and happy when he was around, so if Saddam was bad for Iraq, then the USA is many times worse. Anyone with even the smallest hint of common sense can tell you that our military is only likely to create more anger, terrorism and fighting due to our actions--so we obviously do this by design. We do it intentionally so we can have perpetual war. That's not for our "freedoms." It's for money and power and most of us don't get to see any of that money and power.

Do you really think people in other places around the world have less freedom to move about and speak their mind than we do here in the USA? In some places, that is true, but not in many others. When it comes to freedom for its citizens, I'd say the USA is... about average. Some places are better, some places are worse. We're basically mediocre. So in light of that, tell me why we need a military is at least as large as the next 13 largest militaries combined? The math doesn't add up. If that is true, it is a terrible return on our investment compared to what other places around the world achieve for far less.

The USA does enjoy a position of unparalleled power and prominence in the world. Did we get that way because our soldiers fought off bad guys who want to take that from us? Hardly. There have only been a few military campaigns in our history that can actually justify that claim.

We are rich and powerful because:

1. European settlers strategically and systematically encroached upon native American lands and basically wiped out whole populations of people (some of the accidentally through disease but much of it intentionally). Our military did much of that.

2. European descended settled brought in African slaves to build a disproportionate amount of wealth for themselves. They have since maintained that wealth through deeply embedded systems of privilege. African Americans are still kept in a vulnerable, second-class status through various systems of discrimination, as well. Our military, police and militias have all had a hand in keeping African people enslaved and harassed.

3. The USA rose to power largely because the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans make it hard for anyone else to come here. Through the Monroe Doctrine, we have kept other nations in our hemisphere poor and fumbling by systematically oppressing them and installing puppet governments. We continue to do this today. The rest of the world knows it, but most Americans are kept oblivious. Our military does that.

4. The US military has bases in over 150 countries around the world. Are they "protecting our freedoms"? I fail to see how. No, they are defining the boundaries of the US empire, making the world "safe" for multi-national corporations to rob the world blind, scorch the environment with impunity and put down any democratic, grassroots resistance. Any country that doesn't immediately play along and bow down to US interests is labeled a "rouge nation" and ostracized and stricken with embargoes. When that fails, we went in the military and ultimately attack and destroy those places. There is little evidence that the US actually tries to encourage or establish democracy elsewhere in the world. That's simply the narrative we are fed and sadly most Americans gobble it up without question. I'm not sure why that is--maybe we like to believe the lies rather than face the truth or maybe that's simply the result of very effective propaganda. It's amazing how we believe this absolute fantasy about ourselves yet we can see it so clearly when other nations delude themselves. It's what Americans like to believe. But what if the truth is not what you have been led to believe all your lives? Can you handle it? Can you look at it square in the eye?

What I'm describing here is basically an empire. We don't like to use that word because of all the negative connotations, so pundits and journalists have created the term "superpower" to hide the truth of the situation. Most Americans have bought it unquestioningly.

Here's reality:

The USA was created through a brutal system of ETHNIC CLEANSING of Native Americans. Then we established an APARTHEID STATE through slavery and Jim Crow laws. We SUPPRESS freedoms elsewhere in the world through imperial power to keep our foot on just about everybody else, despite the widespread suffering and death that entails. This is all well documented. [Do you really think much of the third world is desperately poor just because they can't get their act together? Or do you think there are outside forces keeping them this way?] And then the sickest part is that we have created endless narratives telling ourselves that we are the "good guys" bringing freedoms and flowers to a world hungry for whatever breadcrumbs we throw to them. Let the scales fall from your eyes. The USA is not a great place unless you're rich and white and never has been. And we are shitty neighbors to the rest of the world. Whatever standard of living we do have comes at a very brutal price elsewhere.

Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, it doesn't matter. Successive administrations of both parties keep this national agenda moving along with little interruption. Obama was drone bombing at least seven nations--the same kinds of things liberals would be enraged about when Trump does it. Hillary Clinton spearheaded the destruction of Libya as Secretary of State. Most liberals can't hear this. Each administration has its own wars and campaigns.

The first step in recovery is simply being honest about who we are and what we are about. Let's give up the lies and the fantasies. Perhaps then and only then would we actually honor the people who have died for this cause. The mythology about America is everywhere, it's virtually unquestioned and many people are afraid of saying otherwise. On this Memorial Day, I grieve for all those who have suffered and died in pursuit of a very evil agenda and who have died for a lie.