Memorial Day (bitter irony edition, 2019)

It’s Memorial Day weekend. Heading off to see family and friends in far-flung outposts of the USA? Staying home. Hey, do as you please. It’s still a “free” country. Oh yes, citizens, you are free to do as you please (within legal limits).

At some point, stop and remember the U.S. military personnel who died defending democracy from fascism and tyranny. Let’s see, when did we last go to war against fascists or tyrannical enemies? Korea? No way. That was an East/West proxy war that essentially pitted the United States democratic ideology against the perceived threat of expanding Communism. Korea is considered something as a “no decision” outcome. We certainly didn’t win. Otherwise would North Korea be the creepy commie country it is today? Who, among the over 300,000,000 Americans (or immigrants of recent vintage) even knows there was a Korean War in the early 1950s? Oh, maybe if you watch M.A.S.H. reruns you may note the location for that semi-serious take on that part of our military history.

Vietnam? Sorry, but that one goes down as flat-out loss. About a dozen years of another proxy war, and after about 59,000 of our combatants died in that conflict, we basically gave up, and let North Vietnam (again, those godless commies) take over more independent-minded South Vietnam. Today, Vietnam is a popular tourist destination. Check your clothing labels, and you may discover that you are wearing a garment made in Vietnam. Ironic, eh?

Hmm. Then the Soviet Union collapses around 1990, and the commie boogeyman isn’t such an ideological threat anymore, and not until September 11, 2001 did we have a new, clear enemy: the terrorists. Afghanistan and Iraq become combat destinations. We’re still in both countries, 16 years and counting in Afghanistan and well, about 10 years in Iraq, until we bailed out on being an occupying army after a quick takeover of its government, political and military operations. Ironic, though, as to why we invaded Iraq, as it had nothing to do with the 911 attacks in spite of the fallacy of reasoning mantra spit out by Bush, Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz, Ashcroft and others: either we fight them there, or we fight them here!  (proven, conclusively to be completely a Big Lie pile of bullshit); We should have invaded Saudi Arabia, where 15 of the 18 thems who pulled off the 911 attacks originated. But the public and the press ate up the lies and well… (If you doubt my assertions, just do some research on it or any of the above noted conflicts. Please, learn some history). Now, as it so happens, we’re sending troops back to Iraq, which we left when there no longer seemed to be any reason to stay (although there sure was reason to stay). Now we have to try to fight not the remains of the Iraqi army but the terror networks that filled the vacuum when we initially pulled out. We’ve lost about 6,000 troops to the Iraq conflict…so far.

So, we fight proxy wars against Moscow and its communist controlled “branches” then move onto the terrorists, post 911. But if we can fight a war to a “draw” or sadly declare retreat and seemingly lose another, then engage in a by now obvious no-win situation in Afghanistan (as did the Soviet Union in the 80s) and invade another country that had absolutely nothing to do with 911, one might wonder if there was ever any real to the winner go the spoils showdown on the line, from Korea to Nam to Afghanistan to Iraq? If we lost to the North Viet Army and not one single thing changed as far as the iconic American Way of Life goes (oh, except now you can enjoy its beautiful beaches without fear of being carpet bombed in the process) but you’re free to support our trade agreement that puts that Vietnam-made shirt on your back. It makes one wonder, does it not?, why did we fight the Vietnam war the first place? What, exactly, did those 59,000 names inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial die for? Why fight unless the threat clearly means that, if we do not prevail, very, very dire consequences to our way of life here in the U.S. would be an ensuing and assured certainty?

So, when did we last fight to truly, actually, desperately, save the world from massively evil, extremely powerful military forces that wanted to destroy the United States? Hmmm. Let’s see. I think there was one. I remember reading about it and watching movies that dramatized just what that expression war is hell embodies. When was that?! Oh, right! It’s called World War Two.  A truly GLOBAL war.  Hitler. Genocide against millions of Jews and perceived other enemies of the Third Reich. The Nazis. Marching across Europe. Hitler and his declared goal of a “thousand-year Reich”. But it wasn’t just Hitler. Japan was similarly seeking to be a military, global empire of its own, in league with Germany. Pearl Harbor! December 7, 1941, a day that “will forever live in infamyand drew our military into the ongoing conflicts initiated by Germany, Japan, and Italy.

Ironically, the Red Army of the Soviet Union, was one of our major allies in WWII. By the time the Allies defeated the Axis powers, over a period from 1939-1945, somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 million military and civilians were killed.  Million! The U.S. lost 407,000 of our military, with another 671,000 wounded. The Red Army lost close to 10,000,000 alone! Germany’s dead combatants totaled  5,533,000. Japan’s army dead was 2,100,000. After Germany surrendered, Japan kept fighting. President Truman signed off on dropping not one, but two atomic bombs on Japan to bring it to its knees. The Second World War was fought on six continents and all its oceans.

WWII was without a doubt a war that the Allies, including the United States had to win in order to preserve our (and our allies’) way of life, and  freedoms. The American military, along with widespread civilian support  stateside, working in factories producing bullets, bombs, airplanes, K-rations, tires and tanks, are considered ‘The Greatest Generation” and I have no argument with that designation. My generation, the Boomers, and the generations that have followed Baby Boomers? Well, let’s face it folks. We have gotten off SO EASY compared to what our parents or grandparents experienced directly or indirectly in what historians proclaim to be the bloodiest, most deadly global conflict ever.

So, remember all of the fallen on this Memorial Day, from the Revolutionary War to the most recent fighters killed in the line of duty. But know this: if not for the sacrifices of those who fought and died in the Second World War, none of us would be doing whatever we are doing at this very moment. Hell, there’s a damn good chance countless of us wouldn’t even have been born! War is hell, and absurd, but it seems inevitable. If we are going to ask our military to possibly sacrifice their lives to “defend our freedoms” logic dictates that it’s literally a “do or die” fight, not some proxy adventure or a war based on propaganda and prevarication.

But we are here, in a country that  still enjoys the freedoms that were protected by that generation that unarguably helped save the world from fascism and tyranny. There has been nothing remotely close to that threat to our way of life here in the U.S. since. Nothing.

I, however, always think of Memorial Day with an ever-increasing bitter taste of irony. Why? Look at what that Greatest Generation has to show for their sacrifice: an electorate that is absurdly lazy and/or stupid enough to sit back and either not vote or vote for, stupefying as it was, an embarrassingly incompetent,  pathologically self-absorbed, paranoid, delusional buffoon to “lead” our country. And Russia, of all countries, seems to have helped him rig the election. For this outcome, we now face a clear and present treat to our way of life alright, but this is an internal threat, Russian tinkering aside. And our twitter-in-chief seems to be itching for, what else?, war. 

We have used the sacrifice that saved our country from fascism and tyranny over 70 years ago, by now directly or indirectly, as a populace, having escorted into power a government that places profits over people, practices predatory capitalism, is avidly corporatist and is marinated in cronyism in degrees never before seen in our country’s history, an administration strategizing cynically, against healthcare, education, social, racial and gender equality, and most horrifying of all,  a willful denial of science, particularly regarding climate change.

Oh, sure, since the onset of Trumplandia, we have had protests and efforts to resist, Indivisible, Occupy Democrats and beyond. How’s that working out? Yesterday, there was a special election in Montana, one where the Left thought their candidate could make hay out of Trump’s dangerous dysfunction and had a good chance of winning and thus “send a message” to the banal GOP. But no! The Republican was re-elected, in spite of the day before the election his having assaulted a Guardian reporter (caught live on tape) and who now faces criminal charges. But those Trump-loving nitwits stayed the creepy course in one of many so-called “red states”. So,  I’m afraid this will get worse and worse before it possibly gets better. I don’t have faith that enough people will wake up and  not just demand, but assure positive change.

The Greatest Generation sacrificed so much so that now we come to this? A venal and vile group of oligarchs running the country?

Perhaps the climate  will fatally collapse and thus make all of our political divisiveness and angst a moot point. Better stop and smell thise roses while you can, just in case.

Again, thank that Greatest Generation, and especially those 1,000,000 plus military dead or wounded in WWII.  Most of them have passed on. But they are so worthy of rememberance. They can be not just remembered, but rewarded, by our not squandering any further their gutsy and magnanimous legacy.

Happy picnic, or backyard barbeque, or just kicking back to watch sports or entertainment on this Memorial weekend. Just remember, please, who to thank for it still being possible to have that much freedom to do or not do as you please. For better. And sadly, and in bitter irony, even for worse.




About jharrin4

mass communication/speech instructor at College of DuPage and Triton College in suburban Chicago. Army veteran of the Viet Nam era.
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