Some time ago, I got embroiled in a Facebook leftist-site discussion about the police. I objected to the repeated postings indicting all cops as pigs, murderers, thugs, etc. The HardLefties in the discussion defended their accusations, given the historical role of police in suppressing protests of all kinds. One of the most violent and hate-filled expressions came from someone identifying himself, apparently without irony, as “IdealisticCitzofWorld”.
I argued that we have to separate imperial and ruling class institutions from individuals who accept orders to serve them–fight the former, struggle ideologically and politically with the latter as far as possible or practical. We have to judge the latter by their motives and intentions, not by who signs their paychecks. So I raised the question about veterans–given the imperialist nature of our wars since Vietnam, are all war veterans also “thugs, murderers”, etc.? One of the HardLefties said yes, unless they “atone”. I criticized her self-righteous holier-than-thou stance as unbecoming for someone on the left.
So Monday, May 27th, is Memorial Day. And it would seem to follow from Ms. HardLeftie’s analysis that those who died in our imperialist wars deserve no memorial, since they are incapable of “atoning”.
I’ve already spent a lot of time indicating my distaste for this particular faction. But since I want to avoid sectarian squabbling, I won’t repeat myself. Rather, I will conclude by saying that the above discussion came to a screeching halt when I said I was a drafted Vietnam-era veteran who refused orders to Vietnam (I was in a non-combat specialty), and still came out with an honorable discharge after two years of service (long story).
As such, I suppose I ought to disdain my fellow soldiers who obeyed orders. I don’t. Some went despite their misgivings. Some went because they believed the government’s propaganda. Some went because they were too young or too uneducated to know better. Of course, some went because they thought war was an adventure (I’m sure they learned different). With very few exceptions, these were not war criminals–that breed was safely back in Washington, DC ordering them to kill, and possibly die.
My point–and I have one–is that those who died in our wars, whether to free our country from British imperialism, preserve the Union and destroy the Slave Republic, “make the world safe for democracy” [sic], or to fight fascism–or whether to serve as tools of our anti-Communist/imperial foreign policy in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, or wherever–deserve to be spared of our moralistic judgments. They are owed a respectful memorial. It is unfortunate that instead of this, they get militarist parades, pompous crocodile-tear speeches by the warmakers, sales at the mall, and holiday barbecues (yesterday a store clerk wished my wife a “happy memorial day weekend”–and the same thoughtless greeting is all over Twitter.). It is the ruling class institutions and the capitalist free market that degrade Memorial Day, and the Hard Left essentially plays a similar if discordant tune. Thoughtful socialists, who understand the evils and the ironies of imperial/global capitalist wars, should observe the day with quiet respect, historical understanding, and solemn remembrance.