Matthew Hoh & Danny Sjursen: We Are Combat Vets, and We Want America To Reboot Memorial Day

COVID-19 has killed more Americans than the Revolutionary, Mexican, Spanish, Indian, Philippine, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghan Wars combined.

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From Mother Jones:

Pandemic or no, resilient Americans will celebrate Memorial Day together. Be it through Zoom or spaced six feet apart from ten or less loved ones at backyard cookouts, folks will find a way. In these peculiar gatherings, is it still considered cynical to wonder if people will spare much actual thought for American soldiers still dying abroad—or question the utility of America’s forever wars? Etiquette aside, we think it’s obscene not to.

Just as the coronavirus has exposed systemic rot, this moment also reveals how obsolete common conceptions of U.S. warfare truly are—raising core questions about the holiday devoted to its sacrifices. The truth is that today’s “way of war” is so abstract, distant, and short on (at least American) casualties as to be nearly invisible to the public. With little to show for it, Washington still directs bloody global campaigns, killing thousands of locals. America has no space on its calendar to memorialize these victims: even the children among them.

Eighteen years ago, as a cadet and young marine officer, we celebrated the first post-9/11 Memorial Day—both brimming with enthusiasm for the wars we knew lay ahead. In the intervening decades, for individual yet strikingly similar reasons, we ultimately chose paths of dissent. Since then, we’ve penned critical editorials around Memorial Days. These challenged the wars’ prospects, questioned the efficacy of the volunteer military, and encouraged citizens to honor the fallen by creating fewer of them.

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13 thoughts on “Matthew Hoh & Danny Sjursen: We Are Combat Vets, and We Want America To Reboot Memorial Day”

  1. Oddly, when US air strikes or artillery rubble an area prior to the infantry going in, these collateral damage victims have paid the ultimate price for those infantry…no holiday for them ?

    1. There has never been an American national holiday for the foreign victims of our wars, and, probably never will be, as, frankly, these people’s lives are considered unimportant. If there ever were such a holiday, you can bet the politicians would be exploiting it every bit as much as they now do Memorial Day (“we have to kill innocent foreigners so that fewer will die” would be the argument).

      1. The combat infantrymen I know, know exactly the value of those lives.

        1. Very likely, but, when I said that foreigners lives were considered unimportant, I specifically meant to politicians, not infantrymen. I understand that many soldiers have a much higher functioning conscience than most politicians.

  2. “questioned the efficacy of the volunteer military”

    A volunteer military would work fine if its purpose were actually defensive. The military has not been used even partially for actual defense since before my lifetime, and I’m damn near retired. A military draft, or any other form of compulsory national service, is both immoral (as are all forms of slavery), and a gift to the state of the cannon fodder it needs for global forever war. Those who do not look to the state to provide militaristic “glory,” should likewise not look to the state to ensure, by means of violence or the threat thereof, that everyone “serve” either.

    1. A universal military draft in which every American was forced to serve would awaken America to the cost of its stupid wars. It was the draft that led to protests about the Vietnam War. The people who protested then do not protest now because they no longer have skin in the game, and they can blissfully pretend nothing is happening.

      1. You could make the same type of argument about chattel slavery, that it could be justified by utilitarian concerns. While I believe chattel slavery confers no general economic advantage, the fact is, people who opposed ending it used those very types of arguments to support their cause. Likewise, even if your utilitarian argument were valid in terms of cause and effect (although my own opinion is that it is not), it would no more justify the draft than the arguments that chattel slavery would have a positive economic benefit could justify chattel slavery.

        Involuntary servitude in any form is morally reprehensible, no matter what utilitarian argument is used to justify it, whether said argument is valid or not from a utilitarian standpoint. The whole idea that our lives belong, not to ourselves, but to the state, and that the state has the right to violently force us to sacrifice our own values for its purposes, is one that will someday, hopefully, be relegated to the dustbin of history.

        1. Thanks for a good reply. I was not trying to rebut your statement. Just it to add a new thought of my own. One disturbing thought: we have a marvelous ability to tolerate the pain of others.

          1. “we have a marvelous ability to tolerate the pain of others.”

            And I am no exception. Empathy is difficult, it is painful. Sometimes the only way we can deal with the pain caused by empathy is to simply suppress it. This is an unfortunate but true fact of life.

        2. Or, if a nation can’t produce enough volunteers to protect itself, where such manpower exists, it probably should be overrun.

          1. Yes, I believe the common phrase is “Slaves make poor defenders of freedom.”

  3. May 25, 2020 Why Didn’t The 1958 & 1918 Pandemics Destroy The Economy?

    Media pundits and politicians are now in the habit of claiming it was the pandemic itself that has caused unemployment to skyrocket and economic growth to plummet.

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