Memorial Day is an emotionally perplexing holiday for me. I usually cringe when I hear the rhetoric of being grateful to a soldier for the freedoms we hold so dear. While there is certainly a part of me that wishes it so, it is about the most a-historical statement one could make. I have yet to see one freedom “saved” through war.
The harsh reality, as in our current extravaganza in the middle east, is that war is too often the anti-thesis of freedom in the soldiers name. Societies do not go to war to preserve rights and freedoms, but to destroy them. The irony of this is soldiers come back from war believing this propaganda, and are aggressive in the assertion of their inalienable rights. I guess it just goes to show that government lies and in turn lies we tell ourselves are double edged swords.
I think in many ways soldiers are an exploited group. They rarely come from the classes in America that prosper and owe the most. They tend to, as Eugene Debs would argue, come from the lower class, those who have rights denied, if its in the work place, court system, or the political arena, on a daily basis. They must fight for and appropriate ideals which are not initially their own. Too often being a soldier is the class burden of fighting for the interests and rights of the privileged classes that you yourself are not privileged too.
Mother Jones had it right when she said, Honor the dead but fight like hell for the living. Post WW1 soldiers in demanding their rights as Americans gave us the march on Washington. Post WW2 soldiers gave us the GI Bill of Rights which radically transformed both college education and home ownership. Post Vietnam soldiers, especially black soldiers, demanded a level of integration they had experienced in fighting for their country but were denied upon their return.
Propaganda is funny that way, if the people believe, it may just come back to bite the money class in the ass.