Memorial Day: Whom Do We Honor?


by Tim Duff Tonka Bay, Minnesota edited by O society May 9, 2019

Memorial Day will be celebrated by the usual high speed trips to the lake and our lake homes, and with displays of flags, and the sounds of bugles and drums, and by parades and speeches and unthinking applause.

It will be celebrated by the corporate oligarchies, which make guns, bombs and bullets, fighter planes and drones, aircraft carriers and an endless assortment of military armaments, which hope to cravenly capitalize on the more than $700 billion in annual military contracts that have been approved by Congress and the President.

In other words, Memorial Day will be celebrated by the annual ritual of the betrayal of our war dead. Memorial Day represents the annual apogee of the hypocritical patriotism of our politicians and corporations, as they prepare for more war, more graves and white crosses, to receive more flowers on future Memorial Days.


The memory of our war dead, like our father, a highly decorated war hero of World War II, deserve a better dedication. They deserve a dedication to peace and a defiance to governments that make war.

Politicians who voted funds for war, business contractors and lobbyists for the military, generals who ordered young men into war, the FBI men who spied on anti-war activists, should be banned from attending all public ceremonies on this sacred day. The dead of our past wars must be honored, and let us pledge ourselves, in their memory, to demand no more war.

Let us honor on Memorial Day, John Dos Passos, who argued against war in his angry novel 1919. Let us honor Thoreau, who went to jail in protest of the Mexican War, and defined a mode of conscientious objection as, “let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.” Let us honor Mark Twain, who argued against our war with the Filipinos at the turn of the 20th century.


Let us remember Jeanette Rankin of Montana, the first woman to be elected to Congress, who was one of the lone votes against entering World War I in 1917. She again voted no on the Declaration of War after Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Let us honor the effort to avoid war by President John F, Kennedy, when on October 11, 1963 he signed the National Security Action Memorandum NSAM 263, bringing 1000 military personnel home from Vietnam. 42 days later he was murdered in Dallas, Texas.

Let us honor I.F. Stone, who all alone among newspaper editors, exposed the fraud and brutality of the Korean War. Let us honor Martin Luther King, who protested bravely and vigorously and righteously against the Vietnam War, in his speech “A Time to Break Silence,” on April 4, 1967.  Exactly a year later, on April 4 1968, he was assassinated as he stepped onto his motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee.


Let us honor Father Daniel Berrigan, who declared in court, “for the burning of draft cards instead of children in Vietnam.” Let us honor all the anti-war activists in the late 1960s and early 1970s who pioneered a new kind of protest, one that hinged on exposing the corporate role in war, like the thousand dissident shareholders and proxies who attended the Honeywell Corporation’s spring 1970 annual meeting in Minneapolis to protest the company’s manufacture of fragmentation bombs. The activists forced the adjournment of the meeting after only fourteen minutes.

Let us honor Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California, who was the only representative in Congress to vote no for the war resolution, three days after 9/11. Let us honor the memory of Paul Wellstone, who was the only Senator running for reelection, to vote no on the Iraq War, on October 11, 2002. Two weeks later he was dead.

Let us honor the rare few politicians, like Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey, Dennis Kucinich, John Walters, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, and Ilhan Omar, who have not surrendered their integrity, claiming to be “realistic” or “practical.”

Let us on this and all Memorial Days, put flowers on the graves of our fathers, grandfathers and sons, and then destroy the weapons of death that endanger us, and waste our resources, and now even threaten and kill our children and grandchildren.

On Memorial Day, we must rage against our country’s government, who spends in the name of “defense,” nearly a trillion dollars a year on military weaponry, yet won’t even think about providing universal health care, a living wage and social justice. Those in power, say we must not deplete our defenses. Yet, those in power have unconscionably depleted our livelihood, and depleted our youth, as they have consistently stolen our precious resources and applied them to war.

It is not easy, in the corrupting atmosphere of Washington D.C., to hold firmly to the truth, to resist the temptation of capitulation that presents itself as compromise. We are not politicians, but citizens. We have no office to hold on to, only our consciences, which insist on seeking and telling the truth. That, history suggests, is the most realistic thing a citizen can do.


Soon, profound change will come to this country, this world, so tired of war, so tired of seeing wealth squandered, while the basic needs of our families are not met. These needs are very practical and are requirements of the soul. The need for affordable health care for all, living wages, a sense of dignity, and a feeling of being at one with our fellow humans on earth.

“We the people,” have or own agenda, our own mandate.

Let us on this Memorial Day, not bask in the same old stupefied celebrations and obedience to the hypocrisy of war.


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