Honor the Fallen by Working for Peace

  • Honoring the fallen

On Memorial Day we remember our military dead and honor their sacrifice. But we do not honor veterans by lying to ourselves about why they died.

Many Americans believe we are “free” because of the military and the sacrifice of our troops. “Got freedom? Thank a Vet!” This is a nice sound bite, but it is not true.

This slogan only blinds us to the real causes of war. It promotes the next war. It justifies the war industry and maintains recruiting. It is misleading because it assumes that only veterans have protected our freedoms. And it assumes our numerous wars were necessary for defending freedom.

Many people worked to expand and protect the freedoms of our Bill of Rights. These struggles were fought by people in our legislatures, courts, workplaces, and streets. Many sacrificed and died in these struggles. The abolitionists, suffragettes, civil rights workers, voting rights activists, labor union organizers, whistle blowers, and peace marchers are examples.

Where was the military during these struggles? They were breaking up the peaceful demonstrations, killing bystanders, and “keeping order” to maintain the status quo. They have even been used against veterans.

Historically our military actions have been about protecting commercial interests, expanding territory, or opposing communism. There has never been any significant threat to our personal liberties from a foreign power. Democracy in the U.S. was not enhanced by these wars. Many of our military interventions in other countries established, or supported, repressive dictatorships. We have rarely used our military power to promote freedom or democracy.

A review of the Mexican American War (1848), Spanish American War (1898), WW1,  numerous interventions in Latin America, the Korean War (1950), and Vietnam (1955-1975) will demonstrate these point. Our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are about access to oil, revenge for 9/11, and regional hegemony not, despite the rhetoric, defense of freedom.

We should “honor” the fallen by being honest about our history and by working for peace.

Philip Anderson is a 20 year veteran of the U.S. military