Socialist ViewPoint and analysis for working people

May/June 2005 • Vol 4, No. 5 •

Why Memorial Days Ain’t About Remembering

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

Soon, Memorial Day will be upon us, and stores will put up bunting and flags to try to lure in more shoppers to do their national duty—and shop. Cable and TV networks will run war movies, and the corporate news networks will run file footage of old vets, of new war wounded, to stoke up ratings more than anything else.

But, Memorial Days, no matter where they occur, aren’t about remembering. They’re about forgetting.

Now why would I say such a thing? On Memorial Days, the nation’s political leaders call on the people to remember the war dead, when what they really mean, is to remember the dead warriors. When have you ever heard a politician ask people to remember the civilian dead from those murderous world wars?

When Vietnam is remembered, it is the 60-thousand Americans who are recalled, not the 3 million Vietnamese, Thais, Laotians, most of whom were civilians who were bombed into eternity as part of the U.S. government’s terror campaign against the Vietnamese resistance.

In Germany, after a humiliating loss in World War I, rightwing ex-soldiers pressed for war memorials, and a number of cities and villages began celebrating Volkstrauertag (or Day of National Mourning). In 1934, Adolph Hitler would make it a legal holiday, and rename it Heldengedenktag (or Heroes Memorial Day). All of us can remember the vast Nazi night rally, where Hitler called on Germans to sacrifice in the name of the war dead. Behind him were the huge swastikas, which stood for the elevation of the State over humanity.

The rest (as in World War II) is infamy.

On this Memorial Day, as newsreels stream past cemeteries, and of wars, past and present, think of those for whom no memorials will be held. Think of the mothers, daughters, husbands and sons, the many un-uniformed, who were bombed into oblivion, as part of the macabre military doctrine of “collateral damage.”

If you really want to remember something, or someone on Memorial Day, I have a suggestion: Timothy McVeigh.

As a young soldier in the First Iraq War, McVeigh was awarded medals for burying live Iraqis with a bulldozer, and witnessed the killings of noncombatants.

When he returned home, and saw the U.S. “Justice” Department’s carnage at Waco, Texas, he resolved to return the favor, and struck the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma. When he was asked about the innocents who were slain, the children in day care, the passersby, and the many who were not part of the U.S. government that were killed, he responded with the cool and deadly lessons he learned in the deserts of Iraq: “collateral damage.”

As Memorial Day is celebrated, how many Timothy McVeighs are being formed and forged in this neocolonial mirage in Baghdad today? How many more massacres are being contemplated? On Memorial Day, we remember to forget.

We blare martial tunes, or visit quiet graves; we remember, if anything, the men who died in war; but, forgotten, unrecalled, is the why of war.

Think of the hundreds of young men and women who died in Iraq, yes; but remember they died for a lie. Think too, of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who died under America’s “Shock and Awe” aerial bombing campaign, who died so that Halliburton, Lockheed, and Bechtel might profit.

Think, then, of war, and the reasons for it; not the reasons that presidents say; nor the reasons that your nightly newscaster tells you; but, use your own mind; do your own research, and learn the whys of war.

I guarantee, memorial days will never be the same again.

Copyright Mumia Abu Jamal, May 8, 2005

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