It is the way of my people. We are not barbecuers. We do not like the Monday holidays. But if it is for a good cause, we bear it. The labor struggle is a good cause. The civil rights struggle is a good cause. And today is Memorial Day, and remembering the men and women we sent to their deaths, is a good cause. I like to think of Memorial Day as a day of remembrance of all who have died pointlessly. And before people jump on me, war is a pointless activity. It doesn’t matter that there are times when good people are forced to fight wars. World War II was a righteous war because of the Nazis and others, but certainly it would have been better if the Nazis had not risen and forced the world into war.
Let’s think about the “Good War” for a moment. As many as 25 million soldiers died during it. Of those, 5 million died while in POW camps. As many as 55 million civilians died, roughly half of them from disease and famine. What a waste. I can’t help but think of us as two colonies of ants, because the individuals on either side are pretty much indistinguishable. The treatment of Jews and other “undesirables” by the Nazis was inhuman, but other than being more concentrated it was no different than what we did to the native peoples of America. The Japanese treatment of the Chinese was terrible, but did it really justify our systematic destruction of the Japanese civilian population? Did it justify dropping two atomic bombs on them?
Again and again, I come back to 95/5 principle: 95% of the population just wants to live their lives and have their Memorial Day barbecues (or in the case of my people, write maudlin essays about the tragedy of war); and 5% of the people want something else—I don’t even know what it is anymore. It’s mostly power, I suppose. But once these things are set in motion, there seems no way to stop it. Everyone has pitchforks and torches, and in the end no one is quite sure why.
Unlike Memorial Day that I rather like, I really dislike Veteran’s Day. The whole thing reminds me of the bumper sticker, “If You Like Your Freedom Thank a Vet.” Sadly, the military is necessary. But the last even remotely existential threat we faced was 75 years ago. And sure, we should thank those vets. But just as much, we should thank the vets of the Soviet Union—over 11 million of whom died to protect our freedom.
But if people want to see Memorial Day as a nationalist holiday, I’m against that. The last thing we need is to expand the holiday—to make it about even more dead soldiers. The sacrifice that these men and women gave is not “cool.” It is not something to be celebrated. It is something to be honored, because as a species, we are extremely flawed. Above all, it should be a day that we, as a species, ask forgiveness from those we’ve murdered in what were almost always fights over natural resources. Very much like this:
On this Memorial Day, let’s try to be better than the chimpanzees.