Today, in the United States it is Veterans’ Day (titled Armistice Day in Europe), which was founded to mark the end of the obscene, utterly baseless bloodbath that was the first World War. According to the Overculture, today is a day to feel grateful to those who Gave The Greatest Sacrifice For Our Freedom.
Never mind, of course, that the US hasn’t been in a war for purposes of actually defending itself since 1945. Nor that the vast majority of those Sacrificed were conscripts who were FORCED into the slaughter machine known as modern warfare in places far, far away from the Americas: places like the Korean Peninsula, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.
Now, I will say this: sometimes war is necessary. If attacked, a people needs to defend itself, and it is thus necessary to have a standing military. I’m not naive; I understand this. But there isn’t anything inherently more noble about being a soldier than, say, a medical professional or a teacher or an activist for justice or the environment. And it is a classic indicator of a militarized empire that we laud dying “for your country” as somehow better, purer, more worthy.
While rationalizing military aggression as “self-defense” over and over, the truth is that the American Empire has jockeyed, bullied, and killed its way to what it has wanted repeatedly since the second World War. And by and large, its allies have come along for the ride.
As General Smedly Butler had it, I see no glory in making the world safe for corporate interests like the United Fruit Company and the millionaire investor class. And while I feel sorrow and pity in contemplating those thrown into harm’s way to advance those interests–whether conscripted, too poor and without prospects to see any alternative to joining the military, or too indoctrinated into the ideology of the Empire to understand that they are being used, and possibly used to death–I’m afraid I can’t celebrate nor honor those whose lives were wasted in the name of nothing but greed.
There are exceptions. World War II is definitely one of them. Fighting fascism is noble work. Worthy even of sacrificing lives. Fighting Hitler and destroying Nazism was the right thing to do. He and his circle of lieutenants were monsters.
Intervening to prevent genocide, too, is noble work. I have no problem with the US extension of power to prevent genocide in the Balkans. We should have done it in Rwanda, too…but, you know, Black people and a white supremacist society.
And I must carve out an exception for one branch of the US military, the Coast Guard, which spends most of its time saving lives rather than taking them.
But smash-and-grab warfare for oil or rubber or minerals or strategic positioning or what have you is contemptible. And my country has done it over and over again.
The ridiculous sums we pour into our military–annually, more than twice that of China, the next-highest spender–mean that we, the wealthiest nation in history, live with a scant social safety net, terrible education, crumbling infrastructure and, of course, a tax system that rewards the vampire class at the expense of everyone else. All of us suffer because of our imperial priorities.
So while yes, I can light a candle for those who stormed the Normandy beaches and rid us (temporarily, sadly) of the scourge of fascism, I can’t and won’t broaden that honoring to veterans generally. They have my compassion and sorrow, but that’s all.
Lest we forget: war is a terrible, terrible thing.
Which brings me to Thanksgiving.
I am descended from at least four people who were present at the “first Thanksgiving” at Plymouth in 1621. Here is how the indigenous Wampanoag people who “celebrated” that event with the colonial invaders feel about it.
My country is stained–indeed, blood-soaked–by two foundational crimes: those of the slavery and continued oppression of Africans and their descendants, and of the genocide of the Native people who lived here before Europeans came to take or destroy everything of value that they had, including their lives.
The myth of Thanksgiving is a poisonous piece of propaganda, papering over the truth about what had already begun to happen by the time of that first event.
And I feel conflicted about it, because I am strongly in favor of gratitude as a core value (Atheopagan Principle #3). I think having a holiday to celebrate our blessings is a great idea.
But not this day. Not when it is conflated with a lie about “brotherhood” to tuck away the gouts of blood represented by the arrival of European colonists in the Americas.
So I celebrate the Harvest Sabbath as “Atheopagan Thanksgiving”, with feasting and celebration of the many rich harvests our lives bring us. And I struggle with the Overculture holiday, wanting both to join with loved ones to feast, and to hold myself apart and fast and contemplate how I can possibly contribute, even a little, to redress of the great wrong that led to my being here.
In any event, if you want to do something meaningful for people who have suffered beyond measure, please donate to one or more of these charities.