Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

Maybe it's just the course of my activities this holiday weekend, but I feel like I'm seeing more attention paid to Memorial Day this year than has been the case in previous years. The Phillies-Mets game I attended yesterday (unfortunately for me, at least in terms of the outcome) featured all kinds of honors for military personnel; various stations on basic cable are going all-war-movie, all-weekend (though I found "Apocalypse Now Redux," which Annie and I watched Saturday night, kind of an interesting choice if the idea is to honor the American man/woman-under arms), and so on. The Phils-Nationals game I've got on right now features stars-and-stripes hats, and a sergeant just called "Play ball."

And perhaps this is me forcing the world to fit into my own views, but I can't help thinking this somehow reflects a large and growing discomfort with our country's role in the world, as policeman for global order and/or our own imperial prerogatives. With the news that an errant air strike killed another dozen-plus Afghani civilians on Saturday--retaliation for a Taliban attack that was retaliation for something we did, which was retaliation for a previous terror strike, and so on going back ten years now--can anyone cogently explain why we're there now? Or when we'll leave--really? Or why we won't make this mistake--whether you consider the mistake the initial intervention, or the absurdly prolonged deployment--again?

The other point, in terms of domestic considerations, is that these wars aren't cheap; we're over a trillion even by conservative official estimates, with outside analysts suggesting a much higher number. The debt concerns now obsessing Washington would be literally non-existent were it not for the wars and the tax cuts, all put on the national credit card, in the previous decade. But this is not much discussed; it's more emotionally satisfying to debate the few million spent on NPR and Planned Parenthood. If there's hope for a change in policy, though, this is where it resides: I'll be very interested to see if the presidential campaign of Ron Paul, who for all his despicable and flat-out bizarre views on other issues is consistent against the excesses of empire and not afraid to say so, gains any traction. And it probably doesn't hurt that the outgoing Secretary of Defense is urging this conversation on the country, even if he might not be comfortable with how it could resolve.

It's probably too easy to say that the fetishization of the military and the culture of enforced patriotism (or rather a certain type of hyper-nationalistic patriotism) is itself a way to sustain the status quo in terms of our absurdly disproportionate defense spending and hyper-aggressive foreign deployments. But it doesn't hurt, particularly with a silent but steadfast bipartisan consensus around both notions: the Republicans because the projection of American military power touches something deep and pleasurable inside many of them--on some level, inflicting civilian casualties might well be a feature rather than a bug--and the Democrats because, well, they're spineless cowards ("Democrats"). Until we figure out that it's possible to separate honoring military servicemembers from supporting the missions of empire we send them on, we'll continue to sacrifice soldiers and argue that their sacrifices must not be in vain.

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