American Celebration of War

I came across a claim that Mister Rogers (Fred Rogers) and Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) were war buddies.

Something about the story given made me suspicious. It fit too neatly into what uber-patriotic military supporters would like to believe. It seemed highly unlikely. I looked it up and it indeed turned out to be false. They never fought together. In fact, Keeshan never saw any military action and Rogers never served in the military.

What is the point of making up such falsehoods? I just don’t get it. Why does everything have to be made into yet more war propaganda? Come on, at least leave Mister Rogers alone. Why make such a well-loved children’s icon into a symbol of war?

All of this came up because people were posting stuff on Facebook as it was Memorial Day. This brings up a larger issue of how Memorial Day became a celebration of American patriotism and a celebration of all things related to American war and to American military power and greatness. There are various origins of the holiday, but all go back to the Civil War.

It officially began with an order given by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan. The celebration involved, among other activities, strewing flowers on both the graves of Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers. The history of the Civil War puts the celebration in context. That era of conflict was the greatest threat and undermining to American patriotism that this country has ever experienced. The first Memorial Day was in honor of Americans killing and being killed by other Americans. It wasn’t just self-sacrifice of soldiers for their country, but also the self-sacrifice of the entire country in a war that split apart the American population, that split apart communities and families.

However, many earlier celebrations happened. The earliest of them all involved former slaves in South Carolina. They went to a mass grave of Union soldiers in a Confederate prison camp. They did individual reburials and then held a massive parade of thousands. For these former slaves, what they were celebrating was freedom and the sacrifice of those who had ended slavery. But the enemies of freedom in this case were also Americans, just as the former slaves were Americans. The fight for freedom that Memorial Day represents was a struggle within American society against those who wanted mass oppression to continue.

The best way to celebrate Memorial Day would be to honor the conflict that continues to exist in American society and to fight for greater freedom for all Americans. This struggle is far from over.

As an additional thought, I was reminded of the origins of Mother’s Day. It also began with the Civil War. The meaning of Mother’s Day isn’t about some apolitical celebration of motherhood. I’m a big fan of mothers as far as that go, but it is a shame that the holiday has become so superficial. The motivation behind the first Mother’s Day was to protest the carnage of the Civil War. It was a declaration of peace and demand for pacifism. It was an honoring of the mother’s who lost their sons to pointless bloodshed.

Why does everything get obscured that doesn’t contribute to simplistic patriotic propaganda? And why does everything have to serve the American war mentality or else be neutered of its criticism of the same?

The United States was founded on a violent revolution. But it wasn’t fought for patriotism. If those early colonists had cared about patriotism, they would have remained loyal British subjects.

When Memorial Day comes around, I always feel confused about what I’m supposed to be celebrating or honoring. I’m not a pacifist. The military sometimes is necessary. Some wars are started for worthy reasons and achieve worthy ends. Even so, what was so honorable about all the soldiers sent to their death in Iraq, a war that killed even larger numbers of innocent civilians? Those soldiers, sadly, didn’t die fighting for the freedom of Americans. When was the last time that American soldiers fought for anything as noble of a cause as freeing slaves?

Maybe we should spend holidays such as Memorial Day and Mother’s Day contemplating the continued violence and oppression in our own society.

6 thoughts on “American Celebration of War

  1. Remember what my article from Ralph Gomory?

    Most people don’t really think about the implications of what they are celebrating, just what they idealize. Whether fighting in iraq is really for American’s “freedom” is irrelevant.

    To answer your question, here’s another article though:

    If you think about it, every holiday has become superficial. What a holiday means, a day off, a million advertisements for the latest sales, and maybe some gifts given of said advertised goods or services.

    • I generally agree with the article.

      But I have doubts that Ivy League colleges are a primary problem. There are a ton of Bible colleges out there with conservative students and Republican-voting professors. Also, there are many relatively easy to enter state colleges and community colleges. More young Americans across the spectrum have experienced college than ever before.

      He makes a better point with the military and masculinity. I don’t have a problem with the military or even masculinity. I’m just against the glorification of violence and violent power.

      I have observed before how military service is one of the most democratizing forces in our society, despite the military being one of the least democratically-operated institutions in our society. I do think something was lost with the ending of the draft that forced diverse Americans to live and work together. It’s hard to imagine a time when even the sons of the wealthiest and most powerful families were forced to serve alongside their fellow Americans.

      I do think Americans need more opportunities for public service, for that does satisfy some patriotic urge to do something good for their communities and their country. I’d favor a nation-wide work program, especially with the vast and growing underclass of the permanently unemployed. Every able-bodied American of both genders would be required to serve the public in some capacity for a certain number of years, and be given the opportunity to continue their entire career in public service if they so chose.

      I’ve discussed these ideas with my conservative parents. My libertarian-leaning fiscal conservative father is less supportive of a work program as he is less supportive of public schools. But my more traditionally conservative mother is closer in agreement with me about the need for public service and a public work program. Even my dad could be persuaded, as he understands that technology maybe making the unemployment problem a permanent issue. There is definitely room for agreement across the spectrum.

      • Here:

        The point is

        1. People with hard beliefs in anything rarely, if ever change their beliefs.

        2. They will never accept your evidence, but will use evidence to accelerate their beliefs no matter how feeble.

        3. You don’t understand why – it’s not stupidity, they are doing something that makes sense.

        The point here, is that the military is respected and idealized as an institution. In America, it has even been called the moral core. But it is none of those things. Corruption for example runs rampant in its procurement process. What it is actually asked to do rarely protects freedom.

        But for the average American, thinking about that as truth is simply too terrifying. It is simply less painful to believe the lies.

        “Also, there are many relatively easy to enter state colleges and community colleges. More young Americans across the spectrum have experienced college than ever before.”

        There is that.

        I recall reading that Canada apparently now had in 2010 more than 50% of its entire working age population with post-secondary education. I don’t agree with the article in that regard.

        But there is a deep seated sort of have vs have-not growing I find, particularly in the southern US and various rural parts of the nation. That’s where the military core comes from.

        • Yeah, inequality is growing. The have-nots are really falling to the bottom compared to the haves. Most of the population is closer to the bottom with a wide gulf between them and those on the top. But even down on the bottom end, there is another stark disparity between the moderately well-off have-nots who at least have decent jobs, if not job security, and the truly desperate have-nots who are beginning to form a permanent underclass.

          • That is why the Tea Party exists.

            Some on the left believe it is solely because the very wealthy prey on their ignorance. They are partially right.

            But it is also because the Tea Party exists to make a large group of people, a middle to lower middle class group of people feel like they are better than the others, which in the case of the Tea Party would be minorities like Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics.

            The Tea Party exists because they appeal to those in the process of falling and tells them what they want to hear. It’s a certain “truthiness” for those who remain willfully ignorant. Whether it is based on facts or not is irrelevant. Human psychology reins supreme.

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