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.

Anti-war summary

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.

Particularly shameful

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

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.

4 Responses to “Another shameful Memorial Day”

  1. on 27 May 2014 at 1:39 amRich

    I agree w/much of your argument. Disagree on fundamentals.

    Patriotism, love of country, commitment to its history & traditions, fellow citizens, willingness to serve …. is infinitely precious.

    W/o them we’re Mexico.

    “War is the Father of all things”. - Heraclitus

    I saw the creeping corruption of the upper ranks, and many junior & middle Officers at first hand.

    Worship of tycoons, and Retirement to a plush civilian job for the stars. Blatant careerism in officers. Mendacity, oleaginousness, moral cowardice. Zero Tolerance.

    Indeed, war is insanely cruel. One bullet, piece of shrapnel. I dodged a few.

    The bombings of Germany, late 44 into 45 merely killed women, children, old people, and slave workers. And made the rubble bounce.

    But it’s a constant in History. It continues now. To me, it’s utopian to expect it to stop.

    Ask the losers (unless they surrendered to US), if they still exist.

    I know we disagree. I hope we remain friends.

  2. on 29 May 2014 at 4:05 pmAlan

    I know, absurd to expect war to go away. We’re still a pack of violent chimps with nuclear weapons.

    I defy anyone to refute my statement that wars are the product of vile forces (nationalism, racism, territorialism, etc.) and old men’s vanities.

    What other causes are there, really, when we strip away all of the stupid rationales and cynical lies (of which “defending our freedom” is the worst)?

    Of course we’re still friends. I urge you not to fall prey to the emotional content of words. I do not “love my country.” What does that even mean? That I love all 310 million people and every inch of its territory, from strip malls to toxic waste dumps?

    And what does it mean to “serve my country”? That I obediently follow the orders of politicians and fight whatever wars they concoct?

    What I love is LIBERTY - the idea that you and I, not some king or President, are in charge of our own lives. THAT’S what America was supposed to be about. Instead we get a corrupt oligarchy/empire.

    Here is an eloquent statement of how it was supposed to be:

  3. on 04 Jun 2014 at 7:34 amRich

    Will’s wry, witty, sarcastic/serious essay is a gem.

    I’m flummoxed that people expect POTUS to fix the Economy.

    Of course, he could fire and prosecute corrupt officials and WStreet pirates. Unleash Liz Warren and her crew. Go after mammoth financial scams like computer trading.

    Yeah. Like that’s ever gonna happen.

    FDR did his damnedest in word and deed. But the nation was in tatters, people starving, scared and hopeless, talk of revolution. A rabid demagogue like Huey Long might well have won.

    I’ve seen many old people say the Fireside Chats made them feel better. More hopeful. FDR cared about them (I really believe he did).

    Tho pundits cavil now, he put countless people in paying jobs, doing worthy projects. UofI got buildings. US got millions of trees. Even the Arts Project did much fine work.

    What, exactly, did O’s $800B+ accomplish? Fix our crumbling infrastructure? Other things that need doing? A few potholes around here were filled.

    As for love of country. My grands on both sides escaped imminent death. In Mexico and Poland. I appreciate that.

    My family was low mid class, but we had all we needed. Me: Good education, decent jobs and retirement. I don’t fear the Police as in Mexico. Thanks, USA.

    There are only a few ways a complex society can go. Kinship groups as in ME. Czar & … is it FSB now?… as Russia.

    Chaos & warlords as in Mexico, much of S.Am, most of Africa.

    Muddling along like Europe, Japan, a few others.

    According to “Civilization and Its Enemies”, Patriotism was invented in Sparta - of all places.

    When a country hits a rough patch, huge Crisis, or imminent threat, it’s a solvent, sealant, community builder, and protector.

    Reagan said: “The scariest words are I’m from the govt and here to help you.”

    NO NO NO!!!

    The scariest words are: I’m your poor local neighbor/criminal, and I have a gun. Give me your home, and everything you have, or I’ll kill you. Maybe I’ll kill you anyway.

    America is far from perfect, as the Founders knew it would be. But I love all 238 years of it. I nearly died for it.

    I’m a proud Am Patriot (not that there’s anything Wrong with that - I think)

  4. on 05 Aug 2014 at 7:10 amVlado

    I met Milton and Ruby only a few times, and it was many years ago. I had not heard of his passing. I have been going thgourh my own difficult times, but his warmth and smile and the few soft and encouraging words he spoke to me so many years ago stuck with me, and that’s how I ended up finding this website. Months ago I was clearing thgourh some old pictures, getting ready to move on to the next chapter of my life. Listening to Jazz Music and I came across pictures of Donna and the Murrill children. It put a smile on my face, as I wiped away my tears. Those tears have returned to me now, finding out very much by accident of his passing. To Ruby and the rest of the family, please know that it is very much in part my memories of you and Milton that have helped me get thgourh these times and keep a smile on my face and not let my experiences drag me into despair. My thoughts are with you all, you touched my life.I thank you for that, and for all the wonderful music.

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