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happy memorial day

May 26, 2014

To remember and reflect upon tragic events and those who have died as a result is a humane and worthwhile thing, in my opinion. Wars are themselves supremely tragic events that take the lives of countless living beings, both soldiers and civilians alike; and it’s worth remembering all those who have lost their lives in the global carnage we, as a species, are capable of unleashing upon ourselves.

But when it comes to the subject of war, I think we should always be on guard so that we don’t allow ourselves be so blinded by our patriotism and the idealization of war heroes that we fall into the trap of blindly supporting militarism and nationalism, or attacking anyone who happens to have a different point of view. As WWII veteran and political activist Howard Zinn once said:

While some people think that dissent is unpatriotic, I would argue that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. In fact, if patriotism means being true to the principles for which your country is supposed to stand, then certainly the right to dissent is one of those principles. And if we’re exercising that right to dissent, it’s a patriotic act.

For me, today isn’t just about honouring the dead; it’s also about remembering the toll that war takes on its survivors and the heavy burdens that many bear from their time spent in and around war, physical and mental scars that take lifetimes to heal, if at all—victims of political-economic systems in which the ruling class declares the wars that the working class and poor must fight. As Eugene Debs famously said in his 1918 Canton, Ohio, speech:

They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people. And here let me emphasize the fact—and it cannot be repeated too often—that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace.

War is hell, and many of those who are lucky enough to come out on the other side of it are changed forever. And it both saddens and angers me that the one’s who fight our wars are caught in the tangled web of geopolitics and the machinations of plutocrats who treat human lives more like commodities in their lust for wealth and power than people while the victims on the other side are denigrated, or else completely forgotten. They deserve to be remembered too.

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