Memorial Day


Today is Memorial Day. Some, especially those who have served or have had loved ones in the service, treat it as one of the biggest holidays of the year.  To many, it is simply a three day weekend and an excuse to go get drunk at the lake. Some may find the holiday jingoistic, militaristic and hollow. I tend to look at it as a way to promote pacifism. This may seem counter-intuitive, so let me explain. I’ll be quoting quite of bit from one of our greatest generals and a far better than average President, Dwight D. Eisnehower, and I’ll start with this:

“I feel impelled to speak today in a language that in a sense is new-one which I, who have spent so much of my life in the military profession, would have preferred never to use. That new language is the language of atomic warfare.”

Eisenhower lived in a time where we were on the cusp of technology marking the transition from cavalry to tanks and air superiority, from the horrible but limited capacities of chemical weapons to the potential global killing capacities of nuclear weapons. He was one of the first of what we would now consider modern soldiers. He was also one of the wisest.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

To me, this is the true essence of pacifism. It is a common misconception that being a pacifist means you are totally non-violent and for some practitioners that is their chosen path. That is I think an unrealistic proposition. Sometimes violence is necessary such as it can be in self-defense and the defense of others. It is serious business. As a person and as a nation, we should be ready for it and willing to commit violence when necessary.  One can be a pacifist without being a doormat to the aggression of others. To me, being a pacifist means being committed to trying every possible peaceful solution before resorting to violence. In this regard, Eisenhower – one of the truly great strategists and tacticians of World War II – was both a pacifist and a soldier. The two seemingly disparate states of being are not mutually exclusive. It is an integrated understanding of the maxim of Sun Tzu when he said, “For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.

You can celebrate Memorial Day and condemn the violence that makes the holiday necessary in the first place. This is not a dishonor to those who have served but rather the highest form of recognition of their sacrifices possible. My grandfather was a veteran of the Pacific theater in World War II. Contrast this with the service of my uncle who died in the Vietnam War. This war is widely considered an unjust war for a variety of reasons not the least of which was the heavy influence of industry and big business in entering the conflict. It was a war of choice, not a war of necessity.  Vietnam was in many ways the kind of war Eisenhower warned against in his now famous speech before leaving office.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Just so, the Iraq War was and is an unjust war of choice and a war with an opponent who did not attack us on 9/11. It is, I think, not only fine to condemn unnecessary wars while recognizing the role our warriors play as honorable in itself regardless of the base and increasingly venal motivations of the politicians who issue their orders, but a requisite of being a good citizen and in defending those soldiers who we depend upon in times of necessity from abuses by the unscrupulous in positions of power. The honor and duty shown by my grandfather and my uncle are equal regardless of the nature of the conflict in which they served. I thank them both as I do all the other members of the armed services.

But what I can do to best serve their memory on this day is to work to remove from power those who would start wars of choice for profit or political gain with mindless disregard for the lives they put in harms way. The most peaceful solution is to make sure that our soldiers are not harmed for the balance sheets of Exxon and Halliburton via political process.  It is a war by peaceful means, but it is a war and a necessary one. If you want to honor our military?  Make sure their jobs are not needed.  This Memorial Day, like the ones before and after, I’m going to think about ways in the coming year I can do something for the troops that will benefit them directly.

I’m going to wage peace.

“If men can develop weapons that are so terrifying as to make the thought of global war include almost a sentence for suicide, you would think that man’s intelligence and his comprehension… would include also his ability to find a peaceful solution.”

What do you think?

About Gene Howington

I write and do other stuff.
This entry was posted in Dwight D. Eisenhower, Energy Policy, Fascism, Fascists/Corporatists, Foreign Policy, Free Speech, Government, Imperialism, Iraq, Justice, United States, US Army, US Military, USAF, USCG, USMC, USN, Vietnam, War, World War II. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Memorial Day

  1. Mike Spindell says:


    To underline your Memorial Day message:

    “But what I can do to best serve their memory on this day is to work to remove from power those who would start wars of choice for profit or political gain with mindless disregard for the lives they put in harms way.”

    with which I totally agree is the piece below identifying the enemy:

  2. Anonymouly Yours says:


    I like your article. If I recall its a day that goes all the way back to the war between the states, the northern aggression, the southern rebellion, the civil war whatever floaters your boat. I seem to recall that the southerns celebrated Memorial Day the last or 4th Monday in April and the north had it originally as a set day. I seem to recall that it was not until the late 50s or 60s that it became the last Monday in May.

    Eisenhower was a very wise man, who was born in north east Texas.

  3. bron98 says:

    Ike never fought in combat so I am not sure he knew first hand the brutality of war. He saw it from a safe position. Unlike Patton and McArthur who saw combat during WWI. But I could be wrong.

    Eisenhower was a political general.

  4. bron98 says:

    I think the old dead Greeks said it best, “if you want peace, prepare for war.” A good anti-ballistic missle system and a few thousand nuclear tipped ICBM’s on land and under the sea makes war problematic for the other guy.

    That and the willingness to use them if attacked would pretty much end war. Oh you might have a rogue state detonate a small nuke somewhere but then you would have an excuse to take out North Korea or Iran so I am guessing they would be very helpful once they understood the issues.

  5. This has been a sucky day for me, but Memorial Day always is. And since 2011, so has Mother’s Day. And Christmas.

    As I have written so many times before, Nothing says honor the dead quite like a mattress sale.

    I don’t know who wrote this originally, but it is worth repeating. I have linked to the blogger who posted this at the end of the comment. Give them a click of appreciation.

    Most of us will spend the weekend grilling burgers and visiting with relatives, or lounging on a beach somewhere, or watching a baseball game in an opulent stadium, overpriced beer and hot dog in hand. And most of us will have forgotten the meaning of the day.

    So when you partake in your Memorial Day festivities this weekend, try to remember a few things.

    When the smoke from the grill blows into your eyes, try to imagine the terror of the young pilot as the smoke fills the cockpit of his F4 Wildcat, spiraling into the sea off Guadalcanal.

    When you sample those pork ribs, remember the Iowa farm boy whose life blood stained the surf at Normandy.

    When you eat a bite of potato salad, think of an Idaho preacher’s kid who died with a prayer on his lips, asking God to forgive him for the enemy soldiers’ lives he had taken.

    While you enjoy the warm summer sun on your face, take a moment to think of the frozen bodies of American soldiers strapped to jeeps and tanks at the Chosin Reservoir.

    When you welcome your niece’s new boyfriend to the table, remember the black kid from Mississippi who died right beside his white buddies in Vietnam, though he wasn’t even allowed to eat in the same restaurants back home.

    When you scold your misbehaving grandchild, think of the little boy whose only knowledge of his father will come from stories told by family, because Daddy died on a dusty street in Fallujah while he was still in the womb.

    When you fetch your wife another glass of tea, think of a young wife living in base housing at Fort Benning, as she hears the news that her husband died at Ia Drang.

    When you invite Grandpa to say grace before the meal, think of young men cut down by a hail of fire from a Maxim at Belleau Wood.

    When you reflect with pride on your daughter’s recent graduation, think of a young woman cartwheeling into the sea in her F14 Tomcat after a failed carrier landing.

    When you look with distaste at the tattoos on her new boyfriend, think instead of the former gang kid from Detroit who found a way up and out of poverty in the Army, only to die from an IED blast in Baghdad. And remind yourself that what matters is how he treats your daughter, not the ink on his arms.

    Whilst you enjoy your beer and bratwurst, remember the 19 -year-old Army private who died in a training accident in Grafenwohr in 1960, one of many young men who knew they’d be little more than a speed bump should the Russians ever come pouring through the Fulda Gap. Yet still, they served.

    When you sit at the table, think of a Navy Captain, a husband and father, who died at his Pentagon desk on September 11. His death was no less honorable.

    If you’re traveling today, think of the passengers of United Flight 93, for in a field outside Shanksville they became the first soldiers in our war on terror.

    When your boys fight, as boys will do, remember the boys on both sides who died at Gettysburg.

    If a loved one can’t make it to the gathering today, think of Mrs. Bixby and her five sons.

    While your kids play in the pool this afternoon, think of other kids not much older, trapped below decks as the Arizona went under at Pearl Harbor.

    If you have bemoaned the layoffs of friends and co-workers in today’s economy, think of the Navy SEAL who lost every single one of his teammates on a rainy night in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

    When you take a shower tonight, think of young men reeking of machine oil and sweat, desperately trying, and failing, to surface their wounded submarine somewhere in the Pacific in 1943.


    I tell you of these things not to spoil your appetite or your day, but to remind you that the things we enjoy in our lives are made all the sweeter when you consider what made them possible.

    Remind yourself also that your sacrifice is infinitely easier. All you need do is sacrifice a moment of your time every few years to pull a lever. The way to honor a dead soldier is not simply to fly a flag on Memorial Day. Vote to preserve the freedoms they died defending. Elect leaders worthy of those rough young men and women who stand ready to do violence on your behalf.

    And stop by your local Veteran’s Cemetery and put out some flowers on the grave of your choice. It need not even be the grave of someone you know.

    Bring your children along, and explain to them why. It’s important. Now more than ever.


  6. Powerful stuff, Chuck. I dropped the author a well deserved “well said”.

  7. Gene,
    I posted this on Daily Kos earlier. Writing it sucked up about all the psychic energy I could muster.

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