This Memorial Day, millions of US citizens will take a day off from work for a solemn day of watching parades, grilling dogs and burgers, risking melanoma on a beach, or checking out this season’s wildest amusement-park roller coasters. The aim behind the moroseness and merriment: to remember soldiers who gave the “supreme sacrifice to protect and defend American freedom.” The expectation is that all those who live on these shores will take part in the celebration and join in the collective “thank you.”
Um, not this one. No, thanks.
Nothing against the soldiers, particularly the ones who served prior to the ending of the military draft: Those forced to go into service — including my grandfather, who served in World War 2 — had no choice if they didn’t want to make another supreme sacrifice, going to jail for their beliefs. And the ones who made the choice to enlist in the armed services (a sad choice, in this writer’s opinion) made the decision based on their individual situations. As a pacifist who believes in self-determination, I can’t quibble with their choices, however repugnant I find them.
And, yes, I find the choice to enlist repugnant and unremittingly sad. There is no justification for killing, in my book. None. So you can imagine that the prospect of a day when practically all around me insist that I show gratitude to people hired to kill in my name and against my will causes me untold distress.
Are all Americans equal under law? Of course not. US law, as it stands, denies millions of law-abiding Americans the freedom to fully enjoy their inalienable, Creator-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The grand tradition of the armed forces, complete with images of bombs bursting in air and filled with stories of freedom fighters battling all manner of enemies in defense of the American way of life, is a slap in the faces of those who don’t have equality. Sure, there are people who are heroes due to extraordinary actions they took to protect their fellow humans in dangerous times. They deserve honors. But to honor death brigaders just because they died? I can’t.
So how can an anti-military progressive pacifist mark this day? One could hide and pretend Memorial Day does not exist. Or one could face it head on and commit to keeping more of our young people out of harm’s way and out of uniform.
From the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Faced with unmet recruitment quotas, the US military has its arms wide open for new high school recruits. But a number of high schools nationally have no such warm welcome for military recruiters.
For some, the issue is ethical reservations about the war in Iraq. But for others it’s the growing issue of misleading information given to high school students by military recruiters.
False claims by recruiters is an age-old problem, but there’s evidence it’s reaching a new crescendo. Months of complaints and 480 allegations of impropriety since October led the Army to suspend recruiting May 20 and ostensibly use the day to shore up recruiters’ conduct.
The issue deserves that level of sober reflection. With an audience so young, stakes so high and commitments so binding, recruiters owe it to vulnerable teenagers to provide accurate information, answer tough questions and present a realistic view of both dangers and benefits. No one should be asked to pledge his or her life on the basis of a slick sales pitch.
The Enquirer editorialist opines that a certain amount of high-school recruitment is necessary in order to forestall the reimposition of the draft. I disagree: The military can go after willing, competent adults, but kids — and high schoolers are kids — should be protected from the grip of the killing squad at all costs. Especially when much of the sales pitch is comprised of exaggerations, half-truths, and flat-out lies told by a military desperate to fill its dwindling ranks.
Still, it is comforting to know that people from more than one school of thought have reservations about the methods the armed forces employ to lure sometimes unwitting dupes into their murderous fold. Integrity and honesty are the missing ingredients in the recruitment process. Evidence? As the writer notes, “the growing questions of deceit surrounding the death of former [football] star Pat Tillman and other ethical disasters,” along with the “scandal and shame of Abu Ghraib.” And let’s not forget the stories of war resisters like Stephen Funk, who don’t understand fully the ramifications of the choice to enlist until faced with the notion of having to take human life.
When I was in Boston last March for a peace protest, I learned of many attempts — some successful, some not — to shut down recruitment efforts. (Our very presence kept a recruiting office right off Boston Common closed for that day, thank the goddess.) That movement is still under way: In Seattle, four stations were shut down last week due to actions by antiwar protesters. And in San Francisco, activists are working overtime to obtain petition signatures in an effort to get an anti-recruiting question on the ballot for the city’s November elections.
As Todd Chretien of College Not Combat told KCBS-TV, “We think it’s time to bring the troops home now. The point of this proposition … is to say that the military recruiters should get out of our schools and stop taking our children to send them to die in a war for oil.” Instead, CNC wants San Francisco officials to fund college scholarships so that poor kids are not forced by circumstance to join the killing squad.
Sounds like an excellent plan to me. CNC needs 10,486 signatures by July in order to get their issue on the ballot. I pray they will succeed.
Similarly, I hope the increasing tide of people — veterans and antiwar types alike — protesting the tactics of military recruiters will continue to grow and the number of people who die in supposed “service to their country” will fall. To that end, this Memorial Day, I commit to joining that struggle and encourage you to do the same.
Here is something you can do right now: True Majority notes that tthe Shrub’s No Child Left Behind Act has a little-known provision that andates schools to provide our children’s personal information to the Pentagon so they can be recruited into the armed forces. The law also allows parents and guardians to stop their kids’ schools from providing this information to the Pentagon, but few know what is going on or how to stop it. Thanks to Working Assets, there is a new online tool to simplify the task of protecting your kids. Not a parent? Share the link with those you know who do have kids. Additionally, you can support a bill to change the process from being opt-out to opt-in. Take action and urge your congressperson to support the family-protection legislation.
If you believe in peace and family values, you will help this cause. And today is a good day to do it: It beats the hell out of barbecuing.