Memorial Day, 2011 and Obama’s Selling of War and Empire

June 1st, 2011 - by admin

Matthew Rothschild / The Progressive – 2011-06-01 01:23:51

Prepared remarks of Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, for delivery at the Veterans for Peace rally at James Madison Park, Madison, Wisconsin

MADISON, Wisconsin (May 30, 2011) — I’d like to thank Veterans for Peace for inviting me to speak this Memorial Day, and I’d like to thank you all for coming.

On Memorial Day, it’s customary to honor soldiers who have lost their lives. And so we do so.

And while it may not be customary, it’s necessary on Memorial Day to ask what did they lose their lives for, and whom did they lose their lives for.

In almost every war, they did not die for their country. They died for their country’s rulers, the politicians who lie about the real reasons for war.

They died for the corporations that profit from war and for the top 1 percent of Americans who run this country.

They died for a concept, the concept of nationalism, which enables people to kill and to give up their own lives for an inflated sense of their own country’s mission.

Or they died for the concept of religion, which enables people to kill and to give up their own lives for a phantom god.

And while it may not be customary, it’s necessary on Memorial Day to honor the innocent people killed in our wars.

John Tirman’s new book, The Deaths of Others, tallies them up.

In the Korean War, about three million civilians died.

In the Vietnam War, about three million civilians died.

In Bush’s Iraq War, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians died.

And while it may not be customary, it’s necessary on Memorial Day to honor the duped or conscripted soldiers of our so-called enemies. The 100,000 Iraqi soldiers in the first Gulf War, for instance, many of whom the United States mowed down in the so-called Turkey Shoot.

And while it may not be customary, it’s necessary on Memorial Day to honor not just war veterans but peace veterans who have lost their lives.

Adam Hochschild’s new book, To End All Wars, points out what University of Wisconsin history professor Harvey Goldberg taught us, also: that the real heroes of World War I were not the soldiers but the peace activists, like Bertrand Russell and Eugene Victor Debs.

So today, I honor the memory of peace veterans whom I’ve known and who’ve had an influence on me.

I honor Clarence Kailin, veteran of the Abraham Lincoln brigade and longtime Madison peace and justice activist, who is honored in this park.

And today I honor the memory of Sam Day, the great Madison anti-nuclear activist and practitioner of civil disobedience, and Erwin Knoll, my predecessor at The Progressive and a fierce opponent of all war.

And today I honor the memory of Midge Miller, who, by organizing Eugene McCarthy’s campaign, helped bring down LBJ [President Lyndon Baines Johnson[.

And today I honor the memory of Nan Cheney, who helped put together the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice.

And today, I honor the memory of Linda Farley, who stood for peace and for universal health care.

And today I honor the memory of Ben Masel, who stood for peace, and civil liberties, and the legalization of marijuana.

And in the national peace community, I honor Molly Ivins, who used all of her writing energy while fighting cancer to oppose Bush’s Iraq War.

I honor June Jordan, a warrior for peace.

I honor Andrea Lewis, a peaceful presence behind the mic at KPFA.

I honor, most dearly, Howard Zinn himself.

Please take a moment now to honor the peace activists you have known who are no longer with us. And feel free to shout their names out.

Thank you.

So where are we, this Memorial Day, as a nation?

We’re a nation that is creating more tombstones for next year’s Memorial Day.

We have a President much more adept in the rhetoric of war and more agile in the governing of empire than his gonzo predecessor.

More bombs, less bombast is Obama’s motto.

Obama has just this weekend violated the War Powers Act for the second time with his bombings in Libya.

The first time was by sending bombers there when there was no imminent risk from Libya.

And this second time was by not getting Congressional approval from Congress within 60 days, as required by statute.

He said, on Friday, the 60th day, in a letter to Congress that “it is better” to get Congressional support, but he knew it was too late for that.

And note the phrase, “it is better.”

Obama acts as though getting approval from Congress is a mere option, a mere preference, not the law or the Constitution that he’s obliged to follow.

This is the audacity of power.

So that’s Libya, the third war he is waging.

The second is Afghanistan, the war he has escalated by tripling the number of US troops there to 100,000. Already, 1,571 US troops have died in Afghanistan, and the entire reasons for them being there — to overthrow the Taliban, find bin Laden, and rout Al Qaeda — have been accomplished. But we’re still there because Obama and the Pentagon see the strategic value of a country sandwiched between Iran and China.

The first is still the war in Iraq, which has taken the lives of 4,442 of our soldiers and wounded more than 30,000.

Today, we still have 50,000 US troops there, and Obama had vowed to bring them home by now and then extended it until the end of this year, and now wants an extension on the extension. Can you say a permanent military presence, anyone?

So he’s started one war, against Libya. He’s escalated another, in Afghanistan. And he hasn’t ended the third in Iraq.

But his rhetoric has been less bellicose than Bush’s, his manner less cowboy.

Obama is a sophisticated warmonger, a smooth manager of the empire.

But like his predecessor, he feeds the American people the drivel that we are the greatest country on Earth with a “special burden” to carry the torch of freedom around the world. Unfortunately, the historical record does not bear that out and many of the graves being visited today are graves of soldiers who went not to fight for freedom but to fight for the US empire.

When he won the Nobel Peace Prize Obama went to Oslo and gave one of the most inappropriate speeches ever delivered at that podium. He used the occasion to justify war. He said war is sometimes necessary “because of the imperfections of man.”

We are here today to say that war is unnecessary.

We are here today to say that war comes about not because of the imperfections of man but because of the unequal distribution of power and the force of irrational ideas.

We can challenge that unequal distribution of power.

We can combat those irrational ideas.

So that a generation from now, or two generations from now, it won’t be necessary to salute our war dead, but it will be customary to salute our peace activists.

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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