Well, the annual orgy of religion and patriotism, two sides of the same coin, is under way. All across America, in cities and towns of all kinds, there will be flag-raising, parading, barbecuing, praying, wreath-laying, praying, flag-waving, and more praying – of the religious kind (e.g., “God bless the United States of America” or “Almighty God, we ask [insert juvenile ass-kissing here] in Jesus’ name, amen”) and the secular (“they gave their last full measure of devotion, courage, duty, valor, honor, blah, blah, blah”).
Gotta do it in person
All of this could be done once, in Washington, and anyone who wants could watch on TV. That would save a lot of flag-raising, button-polishing, and parading. The rest of us would not be inconvenienced by all the commotion. But no. Every community must enact the ritual, in some variation or other, but in person.
All of my virulent anti-war sentiments are on display in the “Not for my freedom” post (use the site’s Search feature to find it).
War is old men sacrificing young men (and now, women) for their vanity, ambitions, and ideologies. Soldiers – of all countries — are dupes for letting themselves get into combat. Or maybe they buy the whole heroism crock of shit. Or maybe they’re invulnerable he-men who like to shoot people and blow things up. But almost all wars are optional, irrational (“go murder that stranger”) and unnecessary (unless some other idiot starts it).
Well, it keeps us humans busy. What the hell would we do with our brief lives if we couldn’t be soldiers or jihadis, enmeshed in an insane hierarchy of command and control, with lots of loyalties and rituals to attend to day and night, lots of things and people to blow up, with definite enemies to fight because we are good and they are evil?
And let’s not forget: Once you get past a certain age, you’re almost guaranteed not to go into combat, and it’s a sweet deal – stars and badges and fancy hats and shoulder braids — after that.
Humanity’s worst impulses are on display on Memorial Day, but this one is particularly shameful to me, for two reasons.
The VA has been exposed in yet another scandal – or rather, we’re finding out about the continuation of one that won’t go away.
(It goes without saying that everything we hear about is just the tip of the iceberg. VA malfeasance and incompetence are endemic – this is the government, after all. The government has been screwing veterans on this issue at least since the 80s, and, as The Daily Show recently documented in just five minutes, it’s been screwing them in general since the Revolutionary War.)
It’s bad enough that, as we learned in 2007, conditions in VA hospitals are obscene. But the vets are made to wait for months for the third-rate care they do get. They survive the battlefield, only to die for lack of care back home.
And these VA mf’ers, in true corporate fashion, hold expensive conferences and get their bonuses; see http://www.wnd.com/2013/08/more-va-madness-bonuses-despite-dead-patients/
Glory and wreckage
Such glory going in! Crisp uniforms, gung-ho training, blowing stuff up. Saluting officers. Marching. Saluting the flag. Every unit with its macho motto and emblem. Sects within religions. Tradition! My Dad served! His too! Military insanity is hereditary.
And such wreckage going out. War leaves permanent scars. New wars bring new hell: Agent Orange, Gulf War toxicity, brain injuries, and always, with every war, the shell shock/battle fatigue/PTSD.
There is no healing most of these crushed and demented young people, high-tech prostheses notwithstanding. The last payment to a vet of World War ONE was in 1965.
It’s bad enough that these young lives are wasted. Four thousand Americans died in Iraq (not to mention 100,000 Iraqis), tens of thousands more maimed physically and broken mentally — and the place is still a violent shithole, just as bad as under Saddam. Mission accomplished.
What’s worse is the way the survivors are treated. The disparity between the attention lavished on recruiting and preparing them…and the miserable care they get when the war machine is done with them…is appalling and unconscionable. (They aren’t treated too well once the machine has them in its grasp – witness the scandals over inadequate body armor or the inhumane stop-loss program.)
Why doesn’t every Memorial Day speaker protest this outrage and roundly curse the VA for its heartlessness and incompetence? It would seem like the perfect platform. Why isn’t a vehement denunciation of the government’s mistreatment of vets a Memorial Day staple, shouted from every gazebo in every village square, year after year till something gets done? As a speechwriter, I’m keenly aware of the power of words to cause change. But I bet nothing will be said. They’re obedient to the end. Or maybe they just accept it as a fact of life – after all, it’s been going on since the country was founded (see above).
And Obama, political wimp that he is, won’t fire the VA chief and the top people at all the hospitals where this happened. For government officials to describe these problems as “isolated” is a perversion of language. “All-pervasive” is more like it.
He should also fire an army of useless VA bureaucrats (their records are still on paper, in boxes) and hire an army of doctors, technicians, nurses – you know, people who actually deliver medical care – and pay them REALLY well. Better yet, as has been suggested, close down the hellholes, give vets vouchers, and let them get private care.
Heard it first-hand
The other reason why this Memorial Day is so shameful to me is that this year I got to hear first-hand about the miserable treatment of veterans. I wrote a Memorial Day speech (it’s fun to bathe in opposites every now and then) whose central theme was the good works of homeless shelters and other service-providing organizations for vets.
From these small New England towns around me come the loyal and obedient young men, because they love guns, because they have no better options, because they’ve been brainwashed by dozens of Memorial Days…who knows?
They go off to whatever war the politicians have decreed. It’s all about the mission.
And to these towns they return, young and old, some crippled, some not, some homeless, all bearing the trauma of war so severe that (I learned from the speaker) none of them will EVER talk about it. My client knew people for years and never learned of their time in the military till he read their obits.
So horrible they can’t talk about it. Civilians wouldn’t understand. You could watch a realistic war movie to see what they saw – the gore is quite vivid these days – but that’s nothing like being there yourself. The terror, the explosions, the confusion, the blood, your friends dying and dying and dying. No wonder they don’t talk about it.
On Memorial Day there is a profusion of ritual and magic words and symbols. It won’t bring one of them back to life. And politicians continue to lie about their dying for “my freedom.”
Some years (to quote Charlie Brown), I just can’t stand it.