01 June, 2006

No, today is Memorial Day.

Military cemetaries make me tear up. Their silence* always feels appropriately embarrassed. What can you say to a kid you send to die, emotionally if not physically? Here, have a free tombstone?

So Memorial Day, when I biked to Presidio National Cemetary, I expected to find myself sad as usual at the grassy hillside of rank and file. Instead, I found myself irritated. Not just my usual Memorial Day irritation at the most violent, aggressive nation on earth taking a day to play victim while ignoring those it has killed. I'm used to that feeling. This was a new, improved irritation.

Each grave was decorated with its own American flag. Ten thousand or more fluttered like pinwheels in spring sunshine, looking as cheery and disposable as a raver picnic. Salt in the wound.

There's no greater betrayal of democracy than offensive war. Nobody signs up and enthusiastically donates her or his life for Empire and Conquest. While I'm sure some died happy to know that they helped defend the country against Mexican depredation, Spanish -- um, sinking of the Alamo, Japanese invasion (which even happened!), Communist dominos, or more 9/11s, we're not citizens when we're dead. We're dirt, just like the rabbit I saw on a trail earlier, its entrails being devoured by flies and ants just hours after being crushed by a mountain bike. We're the same dirt no matter what country we called home.

For a country to try to reclaim these corpses, after betraying them by drafting or duping them to die in wars that were, beneath the public rhetoric, almost all aggressive, is like a murderer showing up to a funeral. For the reclamation to be so cheery and parti-colored is like the murderer offering everyone ham canapes.

Of course it's not just the military that screws the pooch on Memorial Day. I also saw mourners visiting graves in fancy Lexi and Mercedeses ("Thanks for dying so I can drive a fancy car!") and I saw a man on a beach with a big flag and a boombox playing bombastic John Philip Souza marches, all brass and snares and the joy of the military machine. I'll take less of that and more Taps, please.

Forget official Memorial Day. Remember the dead of all sides, every day.

* Golden Gate National Cemetary excepted. It's in the flight path of an airport and next to a freeway. Some cemetaries are beyond embarrassment.


noam chomsky recently indulged in a cranky-old-man moment:

The indigenous populations have become much more active and influential, particularly in Bolivia and Ecuador, both major energy producers, where they either want oil and gas to be domestically controlled or, in some cases, oppose production altogether. Many indigenous people apparently do not see any reason why their lives, societies, and cultures should be disrupted or destroyed so that New Yorkers can sit in SUVs in traffic gridlock. 

i say, why stop there with war dead. memorial day would also be an appropriate day to remember the patriotic accomplishments of proud american slaves. imagine the pageantry of descendants, marching in remembrance of those whose freedom was transferred to us by boat, and that we hold in trust for them, lo even as we build new infrastructure for the transfer of freedom in the modern age.

tomorrow, we're gonna pass a law
that'll make everything all right
with equal opportunity for everybody
whether they're black or they're white
tomorrow, we're gonna bring the boys home
the end of the war is on its way
tomorrow, you'll even have freedom of speech
just be careful of the things you say

didn't i promise your forefathers
there'd be an end to hate and sorrow?
well then shake off those fears
and wipe away those tears
and remember that i said:

swamp dogg, "remember i said tomorrow" (1971) 

Posted by hibiscus

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