Memorial Day 2010
“Honor the Warrior, Not the War”
What kind of honor is this?
Our framework for this discussion is our opposition as U.S. veterans to imperialist war. We, as a country, are creating a generation of youth who have known nothing but war. We, as veterans, know that these wars bring death and destruction, not freedom and democracy to the people whose countries we invade. Our future, humanity's future needs an end put to such wars and ultimately to all wars. Now, in particular, we need to stop the vicious counterinsurgency wars the U.S. is currently waging. Many in this country see this need but are held back from its implications because they think there is something honorable in what the U.S. military and its troops are doing. And they see this honor as good. Memorial Day is used annually to re-enforce this “honorable” view.
What is honor?
Honor has not one static meaning but different ones in different contexts.
"Dr Samuel Johnson, in his A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), defined honour as having several senses, the first of which was 'nobility of soul, magnanimity, and a scorn of meanness.' This sort of honour derives from the perceived virtuous conduct and personal integrity of the person endowed with it."1 This honor, with its honesty, integrity, fairness, is the ideal by which most people try to live their lives and by which they perceive the U.S to be upholding.
"On the other hand, Johnson also defined honour in relationship to 'reputation' and 'fame'; to 'privileges of rank or birth', and as 'respect' of the kind which 'places an individual socially and determines his right to precedence.' This sort of honour is not so much a function of moral or ethical excellence, as it is a consequence of power."2 In a capitalist empire like that of the U.S., power, and especially military power, is a necessary precondition of the drive for profit. The power struggle plays itself out in the social, economic and political system that is “America” and is concentrated in its military.
Within this power struggle, there is also a whole dimension of honor associated with violence. One of its manifestations is the image of the noble warrior. In the military, personnel are systematically trained in controlled violence. Honor is a key means by which this is done. “...Social trepidation and violent notoriety in military organizations are organized, constrained and parceled out in mandated rituals... Formal and informal evocations of military honor and pride delimit the boundaries of acceptable violent behavior...”3 Acceptance of this violence is extended into society at large through the myth of U.S. military honor. The military proclaims its honor is an elevation of the moral ideals of society at large. The honor myth is used to obscure the real nature of the system's war machine-- and at the same time the nature of the system itself. This has horrendous consequences for the people under the barrel of its guns.
“...during this period, the Pentagon acknowledged, after denials, a massacre near the city of Gardez, Afghanistan, on February 12, 2010, in which 5 people were killed, including two pregnant women, leaving 16 children motherless. The U.S. military first said the two men killed were insurgents, and the women, victims of a family ‘honor killing.’ The Afghan government has accepted the eyewitness reports that U.S. Special Forces killed the men, (a police officer and lawyer) and the women, and then dug their own bullets out of the women’s bodies to destroy evidence. Top U.S. military officials have now admitted that U.S. soldiers killed the family in their house."4
How a military wages war is a reflection of the type of system it is fighting for.
While U.S. society proclaims an ethical version of honor, its military at its core is about imposing power over others. Troops may behave with the highest standard of honor within the context of their mission: "...My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind -- accomplishment of my mission and the welfare of my soldiers...I know my soldiers and I will always place their needs above my own...I will be fair and impartial when recommending both rewards and punishment.." 5 However this context of “placing the mission first...engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat... ”6 means that any worthy forms of honor brought into the military undergo a process of moral reduction in the military because this military exists to enforce very bad destructive things in the world. When the mission is based on lies, aggression and domination, like the ones which got us into our current wars, they reduce the social value of honor to nothing.
“....a video leaked by whistleblowers in the military showing U.S. troops firing on an unarmed party of Iraqis in 2007, including two journalists, and then firing on those who attempted to rescue them – including two children – became public. As ugly as this video of the killing of 12 Iraqis was, the chatter recorded from the helicopter cockpit was even more chilling and monstrous. Yet the Pentagon said that there would be no charges against these soldiers; and the media focused on absolving them of blame – ‘they were under stress,’ the story went, ‘and after all our brave men and women must be supported.’ Meanwhile, those who leaked and publicized the video came under government surveillance and are targeted as ‘national security’ threats.”7 [emphasis added] Who here is more “honorable,” the U.S. soldiers or the whistleblowers?
Nowadays our society exists on a global scale. There should not be one standard of what is good on Wall Street, USA, and a different one for Mansour Square (Baghdad)) or the Ninth Ward (New Orleans) but under U.S capitalism there is.8 The U.S. domination of and war upon the rest of the world is morally reprehensible. The so-called enemies of the United States of America are masses of people of all ages and genders who are in the wrong places at the wrong time—their homelands—which the U.S. has chosen to invade and occupy. The mission the troops have signed on to is totally fucked up.
How and upon whom a military wages war is the reflection of what it really stands for. One can't wage war—slaughter by air and artillery, mass repression, torture, rape—upon desperate populations and claim to stand for something noble. “...acts which may have been construed (wishfully or not) as anomalies under the Bush regime have now been consecrated into “standard operating procedure” by Obama, who claims, as did Bush, executive privilege and state secrecy in defending the crime of aggressive war. ”9
We know there is no honor in being part of the U.S. military and instead say:
"We have learned there is no glory in murder, no excuse in obedience, and no future in patriotism. If we have to fight or die, let it be for the world, not the warlords. Let us find our glory in stopping the murder and destruction!" --VVAWAI
3 Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death: The SS Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust (Vintage Books, Random House 2002) pp 26-27
6 U.S. Soldier's Creed
I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier. ”
8 An unvarnished example of this imperialist moral dichotomy from WW2 Germany:
“It is basically wrong for us to project our whole harmless soul and heart, all our good nature, our idealism, onto foreign peoples...For the SS man, one principle must apply absolutely: we must be honest, decent, loyal and comradely to members of our own blood and to no one else...When somebody comes to me and says ‘I can’t build tank ditches with women or children. That’s inhumane, they’ll die doing it.’ Then I must say: ‘You are a murderer of your own blood, because if the tank ditches aren’t built, then German soldiers will die, and they are the sons of German mothers. That is our blood.’...Everything else is froth, a fraud against our own people, and an obstacle to earlier victory in the war.”
-- Himmler speech to SS Grupenfuhrers in Poznan, 4 October 1943
quoted in Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death: The SS Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust (Vintage Books, Random House 2002) pp 265-266