Above: We say No to War sign seen at a 2007 anti-war protest. (Photo by Thiago Santos on flickr).
The first Memorial Day was celebrated in 1866 on the first anniversary of the end of the Civil War. A Ladies’ Memorial Association in Columbus, Georgia voted to lay flowers on the graves of dead soldiers and urged people in other states to do the same. Rather than remembering only the Confederate soldiers, they recognized that all dead soldiers had grieving families and so they laid flowers on all of the graves. Memorial Day became a national holiday in 1868.
S. Brian Willson, a veteran and peace activist, goes further than memorializing soldiers and writes that we need to also remember the victims of US wars. He lists the damage done during the Vietnam War to not only Vietnam, but also to Laos and Cambodia, and calls wars “criminal and deceitful aggressions violating international and US law to assure control of geostrategic resources.” Willson states, “Memorial Day for me requires remembering all of the deaths and devastation of our wars, and it should remind all of us of the need to end the madness.”
Memorial Day has become a holiday that celebrates war and treats soldiers as heroes, rather than respecting its roots as a day to mourn the personal costs of war. Instead of being a time of reflection on the truth about wars, the US Empire’s war culture is on full display over the Memorial Day weekend perpetuating the myths that being in the military is both patriotic and heroic, when in truth many US wars are unnecessary and violate international law. It is up to us to examine the hypocrisy of US foreign policy and work toward ending war as a tool of foreign policy.
Hiroshima and the Asia Pivot
This week, President Obama traveled to Hiroshima, where he made a speech about the US bombing in 1945. Obama did not apologize as many in Japan hoped he would. Instead, he made sure to lay the blame on Japan, saying that the war came from their “base instinct for domination or conquest.” If Obama stepped back and looked at US foreign policy he would see this ‘base instinct’ has been the foundation of US Empire and the root cause of recent wars and military actions.
Obama called for a ‘moral revolution’ regarding the use of weapons such as nuclear bombs, but did not offer any next steps. In fact, just the opposite is being done. The Obama administration has done less than previous presidents to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and, in fact, has committed to spending $1 trillion to ‘upgrade’ nuclear weapons.
Gar Alperovitz, a historian who has focused on the bombing of Japan, writes that the atomic bombs were unnecessary and did not end the war. It was the Soviet invasion of Manchuria that caused the Japanese to retreat, and the US knew that the bombs were not needed. In fact, generals such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Curtis LeMay, who were involved in the planning, did not support using atomic bombs. David Swanson describes twelve large myths about World War II, known as the ‘good war’, and explains that the war has not ended in the sense that the US continues to have a military presence in Japan and Germany.
The US military is escalating its activities in the Asia Pacific via the Asia Pivot, in which more than 50%of the US Navy is now focused on surrounding China. The US has pressured Japan to change its military from a pacifist force to an offensive force and is pressuring Japan to build a new military base in Okinawa against the will of the people. The US pushed a new defense agreement on the Philippines and built a new base in Jeju Island in South Korea, also against the will of the people. And the US is forging stronger military ties with Vietnam. This week, the US made an agreement with Vietnam to buy weapons from the US.
And the US is antagonizing Russia through many means. We’ve covered US intervention and regime change in the Ukraine in order to, among other goals, provoke Russia and gain access to its border. The US is also building an $800 million ‘missile defense’ site in Romania which Russia views as offensive as part of the US surrounding Russia with NATO forces.
Given the obscene levels of poverty in the US, the failing infrastructure and frail economy, spending huge amounts of tax dollars to surround and provoke China and Russia seems ludicrous. The reality is that these efforts are the last gasps of a dying hegemony. The US and its Western allies are losing control of the global economy and resources. Eric Draitser explains that the BRICS countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which represent more than three billion people, are under US attack because they are working together to create alternatives to US-dominated global institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
US Intervention in Latin America
The US is also going after Latin American countries that threaten its hegemony. A recent release of Snowden documents by the Intercept reveals that the NSA trained personnel to “delve into ‘economic, social, political, and security issues’ as well as “’policy options available to the United States to move developments toward U.S. objectives in the region.’” It seems the US is having some success at removing and challenging leftist governments.
The recent removal of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff from office is being exposed for what it was, a coup. Leaked documents show that former senator Romero Juca and former oil executive Sergio Machado viewed the ouster of Rousseff as necessary to stop a corruption investigation against them. The leak caused Juca to step down. The interim president Michel Temer is considered to be a US informant. And Mark Weisbrot, who specializes in Latin American politics, explains that the US’ role in the coup is expected based on previous actions and may be revealed in more detail down the road. The largest social movement in Brazil, known as the MST or landless peasants movement, is planning resistance actions throughout Brazil.
Another US informant, Susana Malcorra of Argentina, has also been effective at furthering US interests in her country and was recently rewarded with a nomination for the next Secretary-General of the United Nations. Argentina recently elected a right-wing government that is very sympathetic to US interests. This week, the new president, Mauricio Macri, signed a military agreement with the US that includes construction of a new US military base. The new neo-liberal government in Argentina is being protested heavily, as was Obama’s visit to meet with Macri in March.
And finally, there continues to be a crisis situation in Venezuela where the US has worked for decades to gain control. Lisa Sullivan discusses the dire situation in this open letter. The US assisted attempts to oust or undermine President Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro. After the last election, in which the oligarchs gained more power, the right wing even admitted 17 years of crimes against the government and economy, passing an amnesty law that was found unconstitutional by the supreme court.
A Time for Reckoning
This Memorial Day, let’s honor our military members who have died in a profound way, by working to prevent more wars. People around the world are telling the US to stop its endless wars. This week in Ireland, two people were arrested for protesting US military’s use of their airport. You can join this appeal to world leaders to stop being complicit in US war crimes. Click here.
And instead of repeating the mantra that war is good or patriotic, let’s have an honest discussion about the reasons behind wars and the damage that wars wreak in numerous ways. John Feffer writes about the US drone attack in Pakistan this week, which set some dangerous precedents, and the potential blowback. Abby Martin of The Empire Files discusses the US military’s experimentation on soldiers over the past one hundred years. And NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals that the CIA’s loss of the Torture Report was not an accident.
As S. Brian Wilson concludes: “War is insane, and our country continues to perpetuate its insanity on others. . . We fail our duties as citizens if we remain silent rather than calling our US wars for what they are – criminal and deceitful aggressions violating international and US law to assure control of geostrategic resources, deemed necessary to further our insatiable American Way Of Life (AWOL).”
It is time for all of us to build a people’s movement for a world without war.