Memorial Day

by Kieran Healy on May 30, 2005

For those of us in the U.S., today is Memorial Day. America has a fine tradition of military service and sacrifice. The best way to respect and honor it is to reflect on what it means to serve and perhaps die for your country, and to think about the value of the cause, the power of the reasons, and the strength of the evidence you would need before asking someone—someone like your brother, or friend, or neighbor—to take on that burden. That so many are willing to serve is a testament to the character of ordinary people in the United States. That these people have, in recent years, shouldered the burden of service for the sake of a badly planned war begun in the name of an ill-defined cause, on the thinnest of pretexts, and with the most flimsy sort of evidence, is an indictment of the country’s political class.

Update: I’ve added a little more below the fold. Update 2: And a little more.

Orin Kerr thinks I “don’t get it,” believes this post “seems designed to get lots of people hopping mad,” and several commenters voice similar opinions below. I disagree. I grew up in a country steeped in false piety and soaked in the language of blood sacrifice. I have no tolerance for either. Contrary to what Orin claims, there is no better time than public holidays of remembrance for people to seriously consider whether we should be adding still more young men and women to the roll of dead whom we will remember in coming years. I am not the one who is “test[ing] my ability to invent a populist voice” as Orin claims. For an example of that, you could have gone to Arlington Cemetery today and heard someone claim that ‘we must honor [the war dead] by completing the mission for which they gave their lives, by defeating the terrorists, advancing the cause of liberty, and building a safer world.’ In both Orin’s post and some of the comments below the assumption seems to be that any effort to counterbalance that sort of talk is always just designed to get people mad; that questioning policy always just means taking partisan cheap shots; and that taking leaders at their word and asking whether they live up to their promises is simply an effort to grab the spotlight or spit out some personal bile. That’s a purely cynical view of political life and public debate. And yet I’m supposed to be the one who is not taking things seriously.

Update 2: The bitterness and sanctimony of many of the comments below continues to depress. Also the huge interpretive effort to make the original post as insulting as possible: only in the hands of a certain kind of person could the phrase “a tribute to the character of ordinary Americans” be construed as an insult. “Ordinary” is not a term of abuse in my language. Orin Kerr has updated his post upon reading President Bush’s remarks at Arlington, which sought in part to convert the deaths of soldiers into a reason to continue Bush’s policies. Orin says

In my view, Memorial Day is about honoring sacrifice, not about trying to suggest that the war in Iraq was a good idea (Bush) or a bad idea (Healy).

This is even-handed, but of course the difference between me and Bush isn’t just in our stance on the war. He’s the President!

In fairness to Orin, if I were writing this post again I’d have been happier to choose language like Jim Henley’s, if only to avoid all the crap that’s now flying in the comments. Like me, Jim says that we “should be mindful that every one of those deaths betokened an awesome act of trust – trust that, when they made themselves into weapons, they would be wielded wisely; trust that, when they lay down their lives, we would use that coin for worthy purchase.” He goes on to say, “As a nation we have only ever fitfully met the standards implicit in those deaths. Let us be humble, and let us try harder.” If you wanted to be maximally uncharitable, you could read this as saying something even more insulting than me: “Only fitfully met?” Whereas I only criticized one, Jim’s saying that most of the wars the U.S. has engaged in have not lived up to the trust of the soldiers! If some of those who have shown up below want to head over to Jim’s site and drop some abuse on him on those grounds, go ahead.

I cannot accept the view that the reasons for the deaths we commemorate aren’t up for discussion on Memorial Day. Just go to Gallipoli any ANZAC day to see that there’s no contradiction between solemn commemoration and the reflection that it was all a huge waste. The best analogy I’ve seen comes from war-supporter Trent McBride. Imagine I had posted on May Day saying something like “This is not the day to point out that all those ordinary people who died at the hands of Stalin and Mao did so for nothing: instead we should simply remember and honor their deaths, not condemn the pointless social experiments that caused them.” What then? Would the same people who attack me in the comments below defend me then? I doubt it.

{ 162 comments }

1

Steve LaBonne 05.30.05 at 2:50 pm

And oddly enough, _that’s_ the aspect of the hegemony of the educated elite over the working class that David Brooks doesn’t seem interested in writing about…

2

Eric 05.30.05 at 3:35 pm

Nice to see you so carefully avoid using Memorial Day for a cheap political point.

3

bi 05.30.05 at 3:53 pm

(For some reason Eric believes that Memorial Day = No One Is Allowed To Criticize Our Great Leader.)

(But why talk about US troops? Look, bad things are going on at Saudi Arabia! Uzbekistan! Israel!)

4

Steve LaBonne 05.30.05 at 4:14 pm

The really cheap political points would be the ones made by a President who on Memorial Day sheds crocodile tears over the sacrifies imposed by his avoidable, discretionary war.

5

josh 05.30.05 at 4:41 pm

I’m generally inclined to agree with eric’s opposition to using Memorial Day to score political points (something that is, however, so common as to be almost intrinsic to the event). But I think that Kieran’s point isn’t cheap, but on the contrary important and valid, and put extremely well, to boot.

6

Kieran Healy 05.30.05 at 5:33 pm

If it’s cheap point-scoring you’re after on Memorial Day, I suggest you “try here”:http://www.pennywit.com/drupal/node/2521.

7

Eric 05.30.05 at 5:44 pm

I put it to you Josh, that is because you agree with him.

Keiran’s posting is riddled with contentious points, and that is why it is cheap. Save it for later.

I’m sure someone who believes their son died for a noble cause (even if Kieran thinks he died for Dick Cheney’s business plans or Donald Rumsfeld’s cock-ups), will be glad to note that you are using his death for your own purposes.

Of course, you could argue that Bush is using Memorial Day, so let’s cut Kieran some slack.

But let’s just imagine the outrage here if Bush decided not to attend Memorial Day events to avoid cheap political points being made and criticism. Guess what? Cheap political points would be made about it.

As for crocodile tears, since we are continually told Bush is dumb schmuck, who has limited communication skills, I’m less than convinced he can turn on the tears for effect. Let’s just imagine for a moment that Bush is a human being (you can insert your fashionable snigger at Bush as an ape or monkey here if you wish) and actually feels something for the men his decisions have put in the line of fire. Perhaps he has visited the wounded, perhaps he has visited the families of the dead. What right or evidence do you have to dehumanise Bush in this way?

Isn’t Memorial Day the one day you might actually give your partisanship a break?

8

Eric 05.30.05 at 5:46 pm

Kieran,

That link made me look at Kos. Well done! You outperformed him in the cheap points stake, they had a far more dignified post.

9

seth edenbaum 05.30.05 at 6:13 pm

War with dignity and peace with honor.

That so many of the ordinary people of the United States were willing to be led is an indictment of something more than the political class.
Is the op ed in today’s times by the ex marine noble, stupid, or both?

10

roger 05.30.05 at 6:31 pm

I see no reason to suspend your moral duty to oppose injustice — in the form of the killing and wounding of American soldiers for miserably bad reasons — because of Memorial day. I didn’t know holidays had that structure. So on Christmas, is it all right to steal from the poor?

Today, of all days, is a good day to make cheap political points — for the obvious reason that it is the day, of all days, when the nation turns its eyes to the military. So it is, indeed, cheaper today to get that publicity. Do it. A good start might be to write your congressman to support H.R. 1815 SEC. 1223. WITHDRAWAL OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES FROM IRAQ. which reads: “It is the sense of Congress that the President should– (1) develop a plan as soon as practicable after the date of the enactment of this Act to provide for the withdrawal of United States Armed Forces from Iraq; and (2) transmit to the congressional defense committees a report that contains the plan described in paragraph.” Another thing you can do is sign John Conyer’s petition: http://www.johnconyers.campaignoffice.com/
index.asp?Type=SUPERFORMS&SEC={0F1B03E0-080B-4100-B143-
36A5985EF1E3}. And finally, of course, remember that the argument about Iraq has now turned into an argument about Suttee — since we have sacrificed 1700 soldiers and 13 thou wounded, we need to honor them by sacrificing another 1700, and another. This is a very good sign — when proponents of a war make this argument, they are often out of all arguments. And, given the recruitment collapse in this country, they will soon be out of soldiers as well.

11

josh 05.30.05 at 7:06 pm

eric,
Well, I’m not sure that I agree with Kieran — I was rather ambivalent about the war in Iraq to begin with, but did support it for a time; and while I’m now rather critical of the Bush administration’s conduct (both in how they initiated the war, and how they’ve handled the occupation) I’m still not entirely sure that going to war to unseat Saddam was an intrinsically bad thing. Also, while I remain somewhat pessimistic about the occupation, I’m not sure that simply withdrawing is the best thing to do.
Also, I’m not sure that contentious and cheap are synonymous, as you seem to suggest. That would make most commentary devoted to a strong thesis — your own included — cheap. As it is, not all of Kieran’s points are contentious, though his way of stating them perhaps is. For instance, one’s hackles might rise at the term ‘flimsy evidence’; but the evidence cited to prove that Saddam had WMD did turn out to be, so far as we can now tell, misleading.
I do think that it’s cheap to say things that don’t constitute arguments, but are merely intended to shut one’s opponent up.
It’s also somewhat cheap to impute arguments to one’s opponents that they haven’t made. I certainly haven’t, and so far as I can tell Kieran hasn’t, accused Bush of being inhuman. I’ve no idea whether Bush feels remorse or not. Certainly, he projects an impression of glibness, and seems to me to have demonstrated an inability to admit to having made mistakes, or indeed possibly been mistaken. Perhaps this is unfair, but it’s the impression I’ve formed. This is certainly not inhuman, but all too human; it reflects a weakness of character, though not necessarily a lack of feeling. I also recall some complaints that Bush wasn’t attending soldiers’ funerals during the campaign to avoid the bad PR, but am not sure how much truth there is to this. Anyway, do you actually know whether Bush has visited the wounded and bereaved? I don’t, and I haven’t suggested that he doesn’t. Nor have I said anything about Bush being a monkey. Nor has Kieran.
Imputing arguments to opponents that they’ve never made also seems a cheap shot.
But I’ve gone on far too long about a statement that probably doesn’t call for such a lengthy rejoinder. Sorry to be a bore, all.

12

Ray 05.30.05 at 7:08 pm

Well, that’s one way to boost your number of comments.

This method must be found in the Jerry Springer manual for generating blog traffic.

Post something puerlie and outrageous, get it linked on a blog that people actually read (Volokh) sit back and read the comments.

13

Jonathan 05.30.05 at 7:52 pm

America has a fine tradition of military service and sacrifice.

Really? Which were your favorite wars, and why? I’m not sure any of Gulf II’s predecessors were more obviously moral, when one considers the casualties we’ve sustained and inflicted vs. the historical throughput of Saddam’s wood chippers. Please walk us through your math.

Or are you separating the act of service itself from the causes? If so, you could make a case that the SS served courageously.

The best way to respect and honor it is to reflect on what it means to serve and perhaps die for your country, and to think about the value of the cause, the power of the reasons, and the strength of the evidence you would need before asking somone—someone like your brother, or friend, or neighbor—to take on that burden.

It’s hard to put any faith at all in a CIA which, operationally castrated by Democratic squeamishness, failed to forecast the end of the Cold War. But the unanimous agreement of all Western World’s intelligence services, coupled with Hussein’s history of having used chemical weapons against his own people, documented declarations of chemical weapons stores, and refusal to certify destruction of said weapons, would clear my threshold.

That so many are willing to serve is a testament to the character of ordinary people in the United States.

Please convey our thanks to yourself and your extraordinary friends.

That these people have, in recent years, shouldered the burden of service for the sake of a badly planned war…

Badly-planned by what historical standard? What specific battle or war can you cite which has offers the chance to achieve so much for the sacrifice of so relatively few?

I can’t tell which are the bigger hypocrites: the Republicans who now support democracy vs. Realpolitik, or the Democrats who used to.

…begun in the name of an ill-defined cause,…

GWB laid out quite a number of justifications, repeatedly, before the first shot was fired. That you could not be bothered to pay attention is not his fault. That he chose to couch any of the justification in terms of WMDs in order to secure the support of the breathtakingly corrupt and ineffectual United Nations was probably a miscalculation. But neither could he have expected you and your ilk to follow his advisors’ chessboard strategy for peeling Middle Eastern dictatorships off of their long-suffering people to remediate the “root causes” upon which, ironically, the Left so closely focused immediately following 9/11.

… on the thinnest of pretexts, and with the most flimsy sort of evidence, is an indictment of the country’s political class.

I think your unsupported sound bite, so inappropriate on this particular day, is a much bigger indictment of your ability to draw meaningful lessons from history. How many people, having seen the damage wrought by Hitler in WWII, wouldn’t use a time machine to stop him at geometrically smaller cost in Spain?

One, at least.

14

david 05.30.05 at 8:21 pm

Eric translated: Don’t use Memorial Day to make me think about the war going on right now.

15

joe 05.30.05 at 8:29 pm

Just wanted to note that Orin Jumped in:

Memorial Day is not a time to separate out which of the dead served and died for good reasons or bad; to second-guess which decisions to declare war, launch a campaign or charge a hill were justified or not; or to test your ability to invent a populist voice to make cheap shots against an Administration you despise. I’m sure there are good times for that, but Memorial Day isn’t one of them.

Presumably, Orin also would feel the same way on the Memorial Day after the US helps China take Taiwan, in the name of continuity and stability. Of course he would! It is about the soldiers, see, not the value of the cause on which our country spends citizens. That’s never been part of the dialogue.

16

lurker 05.30.05 at 8:30 pm

364/365 = 99.726%.

You chose to dishonor the intent of Memorial Day, the 0.274% of the year reserved to honor American war dead, to make your political points. Good for you.

17

Adam Kotsko 05.30.05 at 8:56 pm

Kieran,

I fully support and affirm what you did with this post. In fact, I wrote something along these lines this morning. The false piety of “military sacrifice” is always-already going to be deployed in favor of whatever administration happens to be in power and, almost inevitably, sending troops off somewhere or other. It’s sad that people are outraged that a powerless blogger would use this day to oppose the policies of a detestable administration — but apparently not as outraged that the same detestable administration is using this day as a way of continuing to justify its destructive and immoral policies. You want cheap? The rhetoric of the powerful son of a former president, now elected president himself and sending the poor and working class to die for his bad decisions — that’s pretty cheap. That costs him nothing at all.

18

Brian Leiter 05.30.05 at 8:56 pm

Kieran, your response to Professor Kerr is very strong and right on the mark. Kudos to you for this sensible post on a day that brings out (as the comments already attest) false piety in spades.

19

Steve LaBonne 05.30.05 at 8:57 pm

It’s not those who call attention to sacrifices of questionable necessity who are dishonoring Memorial Day. Those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country are indeed noble, and all of us honor them. The politicians who mandate those sacrifices when they are avoidable, and the pundits (and commenters here) who want to declare Memorial Day a criticism-free zone for those politicians, are anything but noble. They are the ones who are dishonoring the intent of this day. And the pundits are also the ones who don’t seem to understand what it is about the US that makes it worth fighting for.

20

paul 05.30.05 at 9:18 pm

Au contraire. What better day than Memorial Day to consider the sacrifice of those who gave the last full measure of devotion? Do we really want to spend that on wars of choice?

Some of us think of the war dead more than once a year: don’t assume otherwise.

If what Kieran wrote bothers you, maybe you should examine why, rather than just reacting. Patriotism isn’t blind obedience.

21

Chris Clarke 05.30.05 at 9:19 pm

Jesus. All this objection to Kieran’s humane, sensible, compassionate post. They protest for nothing. No true honor could be sullied so easily.

Poor little sensitive Bush cheerleaders. I can only imagine the cerebral explosions they might suffer should they look at my Memorial Day post.

22

Orin Kerr 05.30.05 at 9:28 pm

In the update, Kieran writes:

“In both Orin’s post and some of the comments below the assumption seems to be that any effort to counterbalance that sort of talk is always just designed to get people mad; that questioning policy always just means taking partisan cheap shots; and that taking leaders at their word and asking whether they live up to their promises is simply an effort to grab the spotlight or spit out some personal bile.”

No, not always. Just in the exceedingly rare case when someone tries to take a holiday focused on remembering the sacrifice of the dead and use that to try to score points on a foreign policy debate.

Also, Kieran, I don’t think it’s an effective response to your critics to try to find examples of conservatives doing what you are accused of doing, which you do both in comment #6 and in your update. If anything, it seems to bolster the case that you’re viewing this as some kind of game. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

23

Steve LaBonne 05.30.05 at 9:39 pm

_No, not always. Just in the exceedingly rare case when someone tries to take a holiday focused on remembering the sacrifice of the dead and use that to try to score points on a foreign policy debate._

Well, Orin, since you realize that’s wrong, I can only suggest that you stop doing it (and perhaps apologize to Kieran for this clasic piece of projection). Expecting you also to criticze George W. Bush for doing it would be unrealistic, I suppose.

No, this is indeed not a game. It’s about people whose lives were sacrificed for the games of politicians. And about people who claim to think that exempting those politicians from criticism somehow honors those dead. Shame on you.

24

tom 05.30.05 at 9:43 pm

It’s funny that so many of you who support the original post want to talk about ‘false piety.’ Can you read the minds of the administration and the people who think you are idiots for using Memorial Day to score political points?

If I claimed to know your motivations were different from what you say they are, you’d say I had no business saying such a thing and proof of my assertions.

I call the same on you. If you use a term such as ‘false piety’, please let us know what is false about it. Why do you think those who want to simply honor all of our country’s war dead have some other agenda than simply honoring vets.

I think I smell a bit of projection. You have false motives for honoring our war dead, wanting to score cheap political points, so you assume everyone who disagrees with you is just and crass and dishonest as you are. (You may not like this line of thinking, but it carries just as much weight as your accusations of false piety. More because your cheap political points are displayed right next your praise of the ‘ordinary people.’

25

Orin Kerr 05.30.05 at 9:44 pm

Steve,

What points am I trying to make in a foreign policy debate? I am confused.

Orin

26

Armed Liberal 05.30.05 at 9:44 pm

Kieran, it’s certainly possible for even a mindless war supporter such as myself to make the point Orin suggests – without turning it into a “support the war” trope. I did it in my post:

“This weekend is set aside as a holiday to encourage us to remember the simple fact that we have what we have today – freedom, prosperity, hope – because people sacrificed their lives for it.

Today, we are asking people to sacrifice themselves so that our children and the children of others can have those things, and it’s important that we not ignore the harsh reality of that sacrifice and make sure to always ask ourselves whether the things we will gain are worth the cost.

This isn’t the place – the post – for that debate. But it is the place to take a moment and remember what the debate is really about, outside our egos and our politics and words.

It’s about the men and women who gave everything – and those who risked giving everything – for us and ask more than anything that we remember them.”

It didn’t seem that hard to me.

A.L.

27

Henry 05.30.05 at 9:45 pm

Orin – if you want to make this criticism stick at all, I think you need to make the basis for your claims a lot clearer. Some more-or-less-connected questions:
(1) Are you saying that it’s necessarily wrong to reflect on the connection between the meaning of Memorial day and topical questions of foreign policy? Is so, why?
(2)Or alternatively, are you claiming that the only appropriate reflections on Memorial Day are those that bring the US together, rather than those that people disagree on? Again, why?
(3) Or that divisive reflection is OK, but that Kieran is in some way being disingenuous or politically manipulative by framing the issues in the way that he does? Again, why and how?
(4) Or is there some other possiblejustification of your criticism that I’m not thinking of?
(5) Why is it “point scoring” to connect otherwise entirely legitimate observations on the war in Iraq to a set of patriotic values?
(6) What makes this more or less inappropriate “point scoring” than, say, connecting your criticism of the way that the American political class has behaved on Iraq to any other set of commonly held values (say on human rights, just war etc)?
(7)Do you view Kieran’s argument as being less appropriate (I suspect, perhaps incorrectly, that you do) than Bush’s speech today? If so, why?

28

Henry 05.30.05 at 9:48 pm

In (6) above, substitute “one’s” for “your” in “your criticism.”

29

Kieran Healy 05.30.05 at 9:53 pm

_Kieran, I don’t think it’s an effective response to your critics to try to find examples of conservatives doing what you are accused of doing, which you do both in comment #6 and in your update._

The example in my update wasn’t some random blogger like me, Orin, it was the President of the United States wringing the letters of dead soldiers for political capital. If that sort of thing is above criticism on Memorial Day, wheras my post it not, I guess we’ll continue to disagree. I thought my original post made a reasonable point in a direct but calm and respectful way.

As for comment #6, yes, I think that was just a cheap bit of point-scoring: the guy was trawling left-leaning blogs and excitedly writing down any that hadn’t mentioned Memorial Day in order to indict them for Hating America. That’s pathetic. I thought my post was a cut above that.

30

Robert McNamara 05.30.05 at 9:53 pm

While, on balance, I disagree with Orin Kerr (while it would be possible to write a protest of the current war that would be inappropriate for Memorial Day, I don’t think Kieran Healy has), he is not, pace steve labonne, committing of which he accuses Healy. Kerr has made no mention of his own position on the war (indeed, I don’t know what it is). His position, to which he has conformed, is that a day for honoring the war dead should not be used for the purposes of political commentary on the purpose for which these blameless men and women died. I don’t agree with him (and Healy’s example of the [I assume] Irish tradition is an excellent example), but it’s certainly a respectable position he’s taken in good faith.

31

Ray 05.30.05 at 9:54 pm

Here’s the crux of the matter; Memorial Day is supposed to be about honoring America’s veterans. Period.

To use it as a spring board to critique the present administration is just bad etiquette.

Had the post started out as saying “I think M’ Day is a great time to discuss this administration and what they’re costing our young Americans” or some such method, that would be a different story.

But the post took a purposefully solemn tone at the start only to segue into some political wrangling.

It’s a cheap stunt. The intent was obviously more about stirring things up than an actual discussion of the present administration.

32

Steve LaBonne 05.30.05 at 9:59 pm

Orin, here is a quote from your blog post: “Memorial Day is not a time to separate out which of the dead served and died for good reasons or bad…”

Now that is a political point. And in my opinion, it is a morally idiotic political point. Nothing could do more honor to the war dead than a constant resolve to make sure that sacrifices such as theirs are never called for save in cases where it is truly unavoidable. And nothing can do them less honor than an attempt to use false piety to prevent that question from being asked. Armed Liberal, to his great credit, appears to understand that. But to you, again I say, for shame.

33

Steve LaBonne 05.30.05 at 10:01 pm

_To use it as a spring board to critique the present administration is just bad etiquette._ But for the present administration to use it as a springboard to bolster support for its policies is good etiquette? That’s just laughable.

34

Bob Duckles 05.30.05 at 10:05 pm

Keiran,

I agree with your characterization of the war in Iraq and of the leaders that brought us to it.

It is a tragic consequence of war that the cost in lives lost and lives forever changed becomes in many minds the greatest justification for continuing to increase the cost, that those who’ve paid have not done so in vain.

35

Chris Clarke 05.30.05 at 10:07 pm

Memorial Day is supposed to be about honoring America’s veterans.

Wrong.

Memorial Day is about honoring war dead. One cannot honor the dead by glossing over that which they died for. And if they gave their lives in good faith as a result of lies on the part of their leaders, it detracts not one iota from their sacrifice and their honor to say so.

36

Mike 05.30.05 at 10:15 pm

“America has a fine tradition of military service and sacrifice.

Really? Which were your favorite wars, and why? I’m not sure any of Gulf II’s predecessors were more obviously moral, when one considers the casualties we’ve sustained and inflicted vs. the historical throughput of Saddam’s wood chippers. Please walk us through your math.

(snipped rest)”

Hmmm, I noticed no reponse to this excellent post from a fellow called John.
Could that be because he completely obliterated your silly argument point by point and no responses could be found? (At least not any that made actual sense).
Nah…

37

Orin Kerr 05.30.05 at 10:18 pm

First, in response to Henry:

Re (1)-(6), maybe my view is idiosyncratic, but I have generally understood Memorial Day as a day to honor the dead. It’s not about politics, or whether any particular Presidential or military decisions were right or wrong. As you know, I struggled then and still struggle with the decision to go to war; it’s not a decision with which I have ever been comfortable. Still, I see the holiday as a time to put those questions aside for a bit. I don’t think it means that we should condemn all talk of politics on Memorial Day, but I think it imposes a duty to address politics in a particularly sensitive way. Standards for sensitivity can vary, I suppose, but I don’t think Kieran’s post satisfies that standard.

Re (7), I tried to find a copy of the full text of Bush’s speech, but couldn’t, and it’s a bit hard to know from the press report alone if or to what extent the same criticism should apply to Bush. If Bush used his speech as an opportunity to argue in favor of his decisions to go to war, however, (or, for that matter, to push social security reform or advance any other cause) instead of honoring the sacifice of our troops, then yes, I think he should be criticized for that.

In response to Steve:

I am trying to make exactly the same point as Armed Liberal in comment #25. I don’t know why Armed Liberal deserves “great credit” for making the point while I deserve “shame.” Perhaps I am missing some meaning you are drawing from my post that I didn’t intend? In any event, I’m with AL on this one.

38

flenser 05.30.05 at 10:18 pm

So, since you obviously really want to talk about the big bad Bushitler administration raher than the war dead, why don’t you?

Why don’t you just put up a post, giving it your best shot, attempting to indict Bush for a “badly planned war”, or for going to war on “the thinnest of pretexts” or on the “flimsiest of evidence”?

Why don’t you just have that debate, and leave Memorial Day out of it?

Could it be because you have had that debate, and you keep losing it? And that you hope by wrapping yourself in the mantle of those who died in combat you may give yourself some edge which the facts have not provided you?

39

David Nieporent 05.30.05 at 10:19 pm

Eric translated: Don’t use Memorial Day to make me think about the war going on right now.

In a sense, yes. Memorial Day is about the soldiers, not the war.

And about people who claim to think that exempting those politicians from criticism somehow honors those dead.

Gosh, Steve, you’re right. Telling families of the dead at the time set aside for a memorial that all the people being memorialized died for nothing (or “the games of politicians”) is a great way to honor them. Why don’t you go hang out at a funeral home and try that? See whether people agree.

Perhaps you could start by finding a funeral of a police officer killed in a drug raid and tell his family that the War on Drugs is a waste.

40

Orin Kerr 05.30.05 at 10:23 pm

Quick correction — in reading over my comment above (#36), I realize that I mistakenly used the word “politics” when I should have said something more like “current events” or “modern public policy debates.”

41

Steve LaBonne 05.30.05 at 10:26 pm

Gosh, David, you’re right. Obviously the way to honor them is to get more soldiers killed so that we can try to argue that those who died previously didn’t die in vain. Which, as Bob Duckles has already pointed out, has always been the deeply sick dynamic at work in prolonging wars. But let’s not talk about that lest we upset the prowar folks. That would be far worse than sending future soldiers to unnecessary deaths, wouldn’t it.

Oh, by the way, do try your little spiel on one of the many families who have lost loved ones in this war and who want to end it, and to work against the starting of future wars of discretion, so that other families won’t have to face a similar avoidable loss. They’ll be a lot less polite than I was, I’m afraid.

42

David Nieporent 05.30.05 at 10:33 pm

Orin, the first place to find the text of presidential speeches is at the White House’s website. In this case:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/05/20050530.html

Steve/Chris: Bush also quoted from the letters of a few war dead:

he war. He wrote his mom and dad a letter that was to be opened only in the event he didn’t come home. He wrote: “Realize that I died doing something that I truly love, and for a purpose greater than myself.”

Army Sergeant Michael Evans of Marrero, Louisiana, felt the same way. He was killed on January 28th while on patrol in Western Baghdad. In his own farewell letter to his family, the 22-year-old reminded those he left behind to stay strong. He said: “My death will mean nothing if you stop now. I know it will be hard, but I gave my life so you could live. Not just live, but live free.”

You think it “honors” them to say, “Ha, ha, you fools. Tricked you. This was all just a political game by Bush. You died for nothing.”?

43

Michael Turner 05.30.05 at 10:35 pm

Memorial Day has its roots in Decoration Day, inaugurated to commemorate Civil War dead. I had hoped to find some basic generosity of spirit toward the vanquished in the original declaration,

http://www.usmemorialday.org/order11.html

but the wording is pretty clear: if you were a Confederate soldier, you didn’t count. The South had its own observance days (starting from even before the end of that conflict), and still does in some Southern states.

Call it a cheap shot if you like, or an overextrapolation from Order 11, but I think this whole Memorial Day idea seems to have gotten off on the wrong foot, and has mostly hobbled along on that foot ever since. Isn’t it time to cast aside the moral crutches of nationalism (successful or failed) and put some weight on the untried foot? A more honest way to look at the problem of how to honor war dead would take into account that wars are caused by human stupidity. If someone fights valiantly to the death for what he believes in, and what he believes in happens to be wrong, is that any cause for dishonor? Has any rank-and-file soldier ever flung himself with a full-throated roar into a lethal fray thinking, “I must do this so that my people can win and thus go back to being cynical, self-serving and evil *full-time*, relieved of the wearying obstacles and distractions this enemy now presents to those all-important goals”? Somehow, I don’t think so.

I think any true Memorial Day, any honest accounting, would not be so much about honor, much less glory, but about reflection. Memorial Day parades would include the Confederate flag — not as a way to honor the Confederacy, only to acknowledge those who also lost their lives. We would invite the relatives and surviving co-combatants (or their descendents) of war dead from all foreign wars as well, to march under the same flags the fallen soldiers served under, whether erstwhile friend or erstwhile foe. Would this mean some Germans carrying a Nazi flag? Yes. That might make most people’s skin crawl, but it would be very much to the point: that soldiers fight and die for nations, both right AND wrong, and if we don’t think about root causes, we may never see an end to it.

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jw 05.30.05 at 10:37 pm

So here’s the exact quote from Bush: “And we must honor them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives, by defeating the terrorists, advancing the cause of liberty, and building a safer world.”

Given Prof. Kerr’s position here (n.b. comment 37), I’m pretty sure that moral and intellectual honesty demand no less that some words of condemnation for President Bush — somewhere prominent, such as an update to his original post on volokh.com.

45

David Nieporent 05.30.05 at 10:38 pm

Steve, what you don’t get is that Memorial Day isn’t (supposed to be) about you trying to make yourself feel morally superior to the president. It’s about the soldiers who have died.

Nobody is trying to silence the debate. (Nobody could, even if he wanted to; it’s been going on ad nauseam for three and a half years now.) The issue here is called “manners”. There’s a time for a debate, and there’s a time not to have a debate. At the memorial for the dead person is not the time to debate the morality of the situation that led to his death.

46

Orin Kerr 05.30.05 at 10:40 pm

JW,

I think that’s fair. I’ll write something up.
Thanks, David, for the link.

47

nate-dogg 05.30.05 at 10:45 pm

I’m always amazed at how utterly humorless and pedantic the so-called “reasonable” rightwing blog followers are. It’s painful to read their self-righteous posturing. Jesus, they take themselves seriously.

Nothing brings them flying in like the chance to act morally superior.

48

nick 05.30.05 at 10:47 pm

This thread makes me feel thankful that my country commemorates those who gave their life in battle on an appropriately dreary November day, rather than one now more generally devoted to grilling steaks or visiting car showrooms, especially in those parts of the US where the Civil War is still being fought.

49

joe 05.30.05 at 10:49 pm

Perhaps you could start by finding a funeral of a police officer killed in a drug raid and tell his family that the War on Drugs is a waste.

If you want to troll, find one that is at least moderately on topic. Please, the poor quality kills me – I expect better from Memorial Day CT flamewars.

50

Henry 05.30.05 at 10:52 pm

Orin – there’s a complete transcript of Bush’s remarks available at “http://releases.usnewswire.com/GetRelease.asp?id=48133″:http://releases.usnewswire.com/GetRelease.asp?id=48133 . And it reads quite unambiguously as an effort to justify the Iraq war by linking it to the memory of America’s war-dead. I think it’s worth quoting from _in extenso_.

bq. Another generation is fighting a new war against an enemy that threatens the peace and stability of the world. Across the globe, our military is standing directly between our people and the worst dangers in the world, and Americans are grateful to have such brave defenders. (Applause.) The war on terror has brought great costs.

bq. For those who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, today is a day of last letters and fresh tears. Because of the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, two terror regimes are gone forever, freedom is on the march, and America is more secure. (Applause.)

bq. Army Sergeant Michael Evans of Marrero, Louisiana, felt the same way. He was killed on January 28th while on patrol in Western Baghdad. In his own farewell letter to his family, the 22-year-old reminded those he left behind to stay strong. He said: “My death will mean nothing if you stop now. I know it will be hard, but I gave my life so you could live. Not just live, but live free.” (Applause.)

bq. For some of our young heroes, courage and service was a family tradition. Lance Corporal Darrell Schumann of Hampton, Virginia, was a machine gunner for the Marines, but his parents were Air Force. He liked to say, “Air Force by birth, Marine by choice, and American by the grace of God.” (Applause.) Corporal Schumann was among the first to enter the battle against insurgents in Fallujah, and he was proud of what he — what we are achieving. He later died in a helicopter crash. In his last letter from Iraq, he wrote, “I do wish America could see how awesome a job we’re doing.”

bq. These are the men and women who wear our uniform. These are the men and women who defend our freedom. And these are the men and women who are buried here. As we look across these acres, we begin to tally the cost of our freedom, and we count it a privilege to be citizens of the country served by so many brave men and women. (Applause.) And we must honor them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives, by defeating the terrorists, advancing the cause of liberty, and building a safer world. (Applause.)

There isn’t any ambiguity that I can see. Bush isn’t simply saying here that they died bravely, that they were good soldiers. He’s saying that they died for a cause (and in so doing, he’s providing a quite different set of justifications for the war than those he provided at the time when he proposed it). More than that – he is saying that because they died, we must continue to support the “mission.” It’s a baldly political statement – and a rather cynical one too. Kieran didn’t pick and choose among soldiers’ letters and family histories to find those that would support his political objectives. Bush did.

There’s a real problem with this kind of debate – what I think Johnson was talking about when he described patriotism as “the last refugee of a scoundrel.” One of the reasons that patriotic imagery is extraordinarily valuable to politicians on both the left and the right of the spectrum is that blunders (and sometimes atrocities) can be hidden from public inspection if the flag is wrapped around them. In particular, it can be used to make it more difficult to question the rationale and conduct of highly questionable wars. There was a lot of that going on during last year’s Presidential debate, where the question of whether soldiers had indeed died for a blunder was treated as being politically out of bounds. Nor, I suspect, if you go back through history, are you going to find that Memorial Day has in any real sense been held sacrosanct from politics. I strongly suspect that what you will find is that it has been used (either explicitly or implicitly) to support wars rather than to criticize them. But precisely because of this, it’s politicized – and it’s entirely fair as Kieran has done, to calmly set out an alternative understanding of the day, and to challenge a set of not-very-well-articulated norms that are wide open to political abuse, and indeed that have been directly abused today.

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Anderson 05.30.05 at 10:58 pm

I think I agree more with Healy than with Kerr, but I can’t help wishing to see Memorial Day as a solemn reflection on the contemporary form of human sacrifice called “war,” one that we (as a species) continue to practice, perhaps because we see no better alternative, perhaps because we haven’t tried.

In that sense, however horrible & misdirected this particular war was, it shares those qualities with all wars. To that extent, arguing over whether the sacrificed lives in this particular war were sacrificed in a good cause or not … for the right reasons or not … does seem to miss the point.

(Please don’t mistake this sentiment for naive pacifism. But except for sociopaths who delight in war, surely we all must regret that wars occur, and that young people go off to fight them and die in the process.)

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fifi 05.30.05 at 11:13 pm

On memorial day I honor the other side’s dead.

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Andrew Steele 05.30.05 at 11:14 pm

The purpose of Memorial Day is to honor those who’ve given there lives in our country’s wars. And so, on Memorial Day, President Bush said something along these lines: The best way to honor the troops who’ve died in Iraq is to complete the mission.

That’s not an exact quote, but I think it accurately expresses his statement. And it seems at first to be obviously true. We’re in the war; brave men and women have given their lives for our goals there; we must finish the job.

But it is, without question, a political statement. The implicit logic is that any war started must be continued until victory is secured. Otherwise, each life lost is lost in vain.

That clearly rejects the view of many commenters above that the political goal of war is immaterial to the sacrifice given by our war dead — President Bush has, today, linked them irrevocably.

And what is “victory” in a war? Well — just to offer a hypothetical — it might constitute the destruction of weapons-of-mass-destruction possessed by a tyrant.

Oh — wait — the tyrant-in-question might not have weapons of mass destruction.

Okay, yes, but that wasn’t the reason for the war — the REAL reason was democratization of the Arab world. (That’s a do-able project, right?)

But whatever. Really, who cares about all that stuff? The point is, the war’s underway, soldiers have died. There’s no going back.

The Iraq war must be continued, at whatever cost, however long it takes. Why?

Because it was started.

That, according to our president, is the lesson of Memorial Day.

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Orin Kerr 05.30.05 at 11:25 pm

I have posted an update. The VC appears to be down right now, but you should be able to see it here:

http://volokh.powerblogs.com/archives/archive_2005_05_29-2005_06_04.shtml#1117494596

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Ray 05.30.05 at 11:27 pm

The setting of this discussion and much of the dialogue betrays a sharp insincerity concerning the actual war dead and those now in harm’s way.

Argue your points for or against the war, but don’t hide behind some flimsy facade of concern for those who have died and who are in the war now. You’ve got an axe to grind, grind it.

But this whole spiel about M’Day and being upset that we’re fighting an unjust war is empty rhetoric.

labone, healy et al, you are an inch deep and a mile wide. If you’re case against the war had any credibility left, you wouldn’t need to resort to such hyperbole to keep the discussion going.

And yes, Bush is using the day for his advantage but he is not framing it in such a manner to question the purpose or service of those who have already died.

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Chris Clarke 05.30.05 at 11:30 pm

You think it “honors” them to say, “Ha, ha, you fools. Tricked you. This was all just a political game by Bush. You died for nothing.”?

That would indeed be a horrible thing to say. It’s a good thing that no one in this thread has said anything remotely like that, except in the fevered imaginations of those who use the lives soldiers freely gave for what they considered a just cause as an excuse to tell people to shut up.

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David Nieporent 05.30.05 at 11:30 pm

Henry: Kieran didn’t pick and choose among soldiers’ letters and family histories to find those that would support his political objectives. Bush did.

And had Bush done so during a debate about whether we should keep fighting — or whether we should re-elect Bush to go on fighting, or the like, he would have been validly accused of politicizing their deaths, and he would have merited condemnation.

The issue is, I think, that you view it as unfair that one side of the debate gets to say X, while the other side isn’t allowed to say Not X. But the problem is that you’re viewing it as a debate. But Memorial Day isn’t the time for that debate. it’s simply a time for remembering and honoring those who have died. Yesterday, and tomorrow, and all the rest of the time, that debate has gone on and will continue to go on. And that’s appropriate. Just not during the memorials.

By the way, Joe, it’s called an analogy. Unfortunately, they don’t have them on the SATs anymore, so a lot of people don’t understand the concept.

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Ray 05.30.05 at 11:36 pm

Chris,
“That would indeed be a horrible thing to say. It’s a good thing that no one in this thread has said anything remotely like that, except in the fevered imaginations of those who use the lives soldiers freely gave for what they considered a just cause as an excuse to tell people to shut up.”

No, that is the gist of it. I think most have already acknowledged that the subject is fair game any day of the year, but Healy framed the post in such a manner that was distasteful and disrespectful.

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Ray 05.30.05 at 11:40 pm

I’ll give a person room to fault President Bush’s use of M’Day (see Orin’s update) but I still don’t agree.

Those that have died in Iraq are part of the Memorial Day observance. Bush is extolling the virtue of their service and reminding us that they didn’t die in vain.

Now, argue that point in context to the debate of the war. But to argue that point using the very day meant to honor the dead, regardless of the war, is crass and vulgar.

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Perseus 05.30.05 at 11:45 pm

So Memorial Day is a time to contemplate Just War Theory. Perhaps Prof. Healy can lead us all in a national seminar. Any suggested readings for the Memorial program?

The self-absorption of academicians is truly amazing.

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lakelobos 05.30.05 at 11:58 pm

In a democracy, soldiers fight for Kieran’s and Orin’s freedom to speak out. It is our duty to honor their sacrifice and the enormous suffering of their parents and kids and demand that such a sacrifice be a last resort and not a toy for mad dogs that start a war for selfish political reasons.

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nick 05.31.05 at 12:06 am

And yes, Bush is using the day for his advantage but he is not framing it in such a manner to question the purpose or service of those who have already died.

No, he’s just attaching their service and sacrifice to the back of his own political bandwagon as if they were magnetic yellow ribbons.

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Chris 05.31.05 at 12:27 am

I don’t understand the point that Orin Kerr and those who agree with him are trying to make. Why is it OK to say, on Memorial Day, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” but not to point out that in many cases, this is simply not true? Doesn’t it honor those who have died needlessly best to point this out, so that their sacrafices may serve to prevent the further unnecessary violence and loss of life? If you genuinely believe, as I assume Kieran does, that the war in Iraq is causing many unnecessary American deaths, isn’t the day when you honor those who’ve died then the best day to point this out?

Why do we need to honor war to honor those who’ve fought in it? Why is it a cheap political ploy to say that war, especially wars of choice, are terrible things and should be avoided whenever possible, so that the number of men and women we are honoring on this day does not grow needlessly?

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washerdreyer 05.31.05 at 12:52 am

Ray, how can you think it’s ok to accuse another person whom you only know via blog posts of “a flimsy facade of concern for those who have died”? Even if Orin is right about everything he’s argued, how can you say that? You think everyone who oppossed this war did it just as a pose, and not because they cared at all about the people who were going to die in it? That’s a pretty stupid thing to think.

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JR 05.31.05 at 1:20 am

Memorial Day was observed on May 30 until 1971, when Congress changed it to the last Monday in May in order to give us all a 3-day beach weekend. That staunch patriot Richard Nixon signed the law. By 1971, over 45,000 Americans had died in Vietnam, when Congress told us all that Memorial Day was a good time to soak up some rays.

So please, people, a bit less sanctimony about the inviolable solemnity of Memorial Day.

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bi 05.31.05 at 1:38 am

All the talk about “let’s leave the debate to some other” over the Iraq war assumes there’s a real debate going on in the first place. But now what I’m hearing from the pro-war folks is just “Argh! Saddam had WMD! Everyone knows it!” “Criticizing Bush = criticizing all US citizens!” “Hey look! Darfur!”

It’s pretty obvious who’s truly showing respect to the war dead, and who’s just using Memorial Day as an excuse to silence critics.

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Knemon 05.31.05 at 1:50 am

“Why is it OK to say, on Memorial Day, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” but not to point out that in many cases, this is simply not true?”

Well, Santa Claus doesn’t really exist, but it’s not OK to tell kids that **on Christmas Day**.

This was the first analogy that leaped to mind, and I mean no disrespect to soldiers/veterans by it. There are myths (neither true nor false, but necessary) and there are days on which we venerate these myths, and on which we *should* be able to stop sniping at each other for 24 hours. This goes for sniping in both directions, of which there’s far too much on the net today.

Obviously, sacrifice for one’s country is a much more important myth than Santa Claus – all the more reason to take a day off to respect it.

Or not. It’s a free blogosphere.

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lakelobos 05.31.05 at 2:09 am

This exchange though painful is old. It takes place in many societies and quite often – US, France, Israel, etc. It’s the infamous patriotic Kabuki dance of Right against Left, it’s the 2004 Presidential campaign all over again, it’s Reagan and Bush (pretended to serve) against Carter and Kerry (served).

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Joel Turnipseed 05.31.05 at 2:15 am

Ah, yes… of course, the annual Memorial Day pissing contest over the sanctity of war dead. As sad as it is to say, I think it’s true that those who sacrificed their lives in Iraq did so for a stupid cause. I takes nothing away from their sacrifice, since they gave to their country and their service, but it sure as hell takes a lot away from Bush, et. al.

Still… it does seem a bit much to say so on Memorial Day. Even above and beyond the vast darkness that enveloped me (the oil fires did their part) as I handled the Iraqi POWs, was the one that clouded around as I stood at attention listening to a scratchy tape recording of the Marine Corps Hymn and Eternal Father at a rather perfunctory and pointless funeral during the Persian Gulf War. A death that occured several weeks after the war was over, a senseless accident in the haste to bring war’s momentum to a stop. I wondered what the letter said to that guy’s family? Bullshit, no doubt. He had gotten his head lopped off by the ramp of a tank trailer swinging down while he stood unaware. But… I stood attention at the funeral, because I had missed the two previous funerals in our unit and another absence was too much to bear. So we all stood in silence… wondering.

It’s astonishing to me (well, an affront, really–not really a suprise) that sixty-odd years of post-WWII propagandizing have so muddled the minds of Americans about just what war entails. Kicking Nazi ass (as well as saving the Union and gaining our independence) is about all we’ve ever done as a country for military honor–and even that honor was well-acquainted with its accompanying horrors. All the rest: the Mexican Wars, Spanish-American War (especially the following Philippine Insurrection–they had liberated themselves from Spain on the ground, after all), the fighting in the Banana Republics, World War One, Korea, Vietnam, the 60s-80s Banana Republic Redux… just pure unadulterated bullshit. You’d think we’d have a fucking clue… but we don’t, evidently.

So… we desperately need to get one. I’m just not sure that Memorial Day is the appropriate day of reminder.

70

abb1 05.31.05 at 2:53 am

Oh, man. Who knew that a bunch of (mostly) intelligent people would take the official ‘memorial day’ holiday so seriously?

A little bit of healthy cynicism wouldn’t hurt you, people. It’s just a day-off for you, fellas, and occasion for photo-ops and grandstanding for the politicians. Don’t confuse yourselves with politicians, please…

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Dan Simon 05.31.05 at 2:53 am

Here’s an analogy that might help clarify Orin’s argument:

“This January, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we remember the victims of ‘affirmative action’, ‘reverse discrimination’, ‘racial preferences’, ‘quotas’–call them what you will. Under these programs, many have suffered the kind of unconscionable discrimination that the Rev. King himself would never have condoned–indeed, that he spent his whole life fighting, and that is now outrageously being imposed in his name by a corrupt, demagogic civil rights movement and its race-hustling political allies.”

Now, I’m as big an opponent of affirmative action as you’ll find, but I still find something quite unseemly about the above hypothetical rhetoric. I think the problem with it is that Martin Luther King Jr., as a holiday-inspiring symbol, represents something more than a purely neutral universal sentiment (“the brotherhood of man”), and less than a specific political message (“we must all support the current-day civil rights movement’s policy platform”). Rather, he and his holiday stand for a substantial point of national consensus: the ideal of racial equality. Hence, exploiting the symbol of that point of consensus to promote a particular highly controversial interpretation of it seems, as Orin put it, “designed to get lots of people hopping mad”.

Likewise, Memorial Day isn’t simply about honoring Americans who happened to have died during a war; nor is it (pace the president) about supporting the current administration’s foreign policy–or (pace Kieran) about opposing it. Rather, it’s about the American consensus that it is generally a noble thing when America calls her sons (and now daughters) to war on her behalf, and when they answer. If you disagree with that sentiment–and there are those who do, just as there are those who reject the ideal of racial equality–then the thing to do is to argue against Memorial Day itself, not to attempt to co-opt its message by reinterpreting it in an unusual, highly controversial light.

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Walt Pohl 05.31.05 at 3:01 am

Every single supporter of the Bush administration: _you_ killed those troops in Iraq as surely as if you pointed the gun and fired it yourself. Their blood is on your hands, and when you cling to the flag you smear it with their blood. You have dishonored your country, and your children will curse you for it.

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Eric 05.31.05 at 3:02 am

If what Kieran wrote bothers you, maybe you should examine why, rather than just reacting. Patriotism isn’t blind obedience.

It’s worth noting that I am not an American, yet still think this is a poor post.

It is even a poor post, in terms of utility, to those opposed to the Iraq war.

It will not change any hearts and minds over Iraq, because of its exploitation of war dead. It’s a tactically short-term action that makes Kieran feel all nice and pious.

“Hey look at me I’m grown up enough to ruin a day to remember the fallen soldiers, by making it all about Bush!”

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nick 05.31.05 at 3:27 am

Here’s an analogy that might help clarify Orin’s argument:

No, that was an orange.

Here’s the thing: one cannot extrapolate the nobility or otherwise of a particular military campaign from the individual service and sacrifice of those who do the fighting and dying. What can be said is that there’s an ambivalence to commemorating the war dead when you have a role in adding to the list.

Perhaps this is a cultural thing. Perhaps Americans really do like having fresh war graves to play the pipes over. In which case, there’s nothing more to say.

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anon 05.31.05 at 5:00 am

My father, who fought in WWII, was present at D-
day, was highly decorated, and served in the military all his life, always took the occasion of Memorial Day to talk to us children about the evils of war and the futility and waste of the deaths it caused. Why do some commenters here regard those sentiments as inappropriate for this day? War should not be glorified.

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jonathan 05.31.05 at 5:30 am

Remembering War is remembering inhumanity. Mantioning respect for the fighting soldiers and their campaign on a memorial day is inhuman.

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Ray 05.31.05 at 5:31 am

“Those that have died in Iraq are part of the Memorial Day observance. Bush is extolling the virtue of their service and reminding us that they didn’t die in vain.”

If they did they in vain, would they not be remembered on Memorial Day? If in 20 years, or in 50 years, or in 200 years, the general feeling was that Iraq was a mistake, would that make a difference to the fact that the soldiers died in their country’s service?

I don’t think it would. I don’t think its denigrating the dead to say that they were “lions led by donkeys”, for example. Its possible to praise the spirit that leads someone to risk, and lose, their life for their country while saying that they shouldn’t have had to take that risk, or pay that price.

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Cassandra 05.31.05 at 5:52 am

Anyone who bothered to read the history of Memorial Day would know that the first official celebration of that day included the decoration of both Confederate and Union graves.

It was intended to be a non-political remembrance of those who gave their lives in this nation’s service: a healing day. A day of conciliation, not division or recrimination. About them, not you, or your opinions.

You have 364 other days to climb up on your soapbox, Mr. Healy. Your right to free speech was bought and paid for by over 200 years of blood shed by other men. Could you not, for one second, have stopped to consider the pain your words might cause those who mourn their dead on this day? Who honored and believed in the cause they fought – and died – for?

Your words were not so much unpatriotic as simply inconsiderate and unfeeling. Memorial Day does not glorify war – few military persons think war is glorious. We live with the reminders of the cost of war each day.

It remembers service, sacrifice, and the loss of those we love. Your words told them that sacrifice was wasted.

I cannot imagine the cruelty it takes to say that to a grieving person on a day devoted to the memory of their loved one.

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Caleb 05.31.05 at 6:09 am

Cassandra,

You’re right that Memorial Day got its start as a day of reconciliation between North and South after the Civil War. But as it turns out, that wasn’t all good. By obscuring the reasons why the War was fought, the rituals of the day went hand in hand politically with a retreat from the future to which the War had pointed. Refusing to look at the real causes and reasons for the Civil War meant looking the other way as former Confederates donned white robes and terrorized African Americans in the South.

That’s why on a Memorial Day in 1878, Frederick Douglass gave a speech arguing that “there was a right side” in the recent war. Are you willing to say Douglass was just scoring a cheap political point too? I think, rather, that he was being an exemplary patriot.

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Caleb 05.31.05 at 6:12 am

P.S. I also agree with your point that it is difficult to tell a grieving family that their suffering could or should have been prevented. But I don’t see why it’s especially cruel or difficult to say that on one particular day. To hear that a war was fought for the wrong reasons or should not have been fought at all would be just as difficult today as it was yesterday.

That’s why, although I agree completely with the need for compassion and respect for our fellow citizens who have lost loved ones, I worry that this logic, if pressed too far, suggests that we should never say a war should not have been fought, not that we should never say it on Memorial Day.

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jonathan 05.31.05 at 6:42 am

Right cassandra. Memorial is personal and emotional, that’s why it should be de-politicised and NOT used for political ends. It should be simple and about the dead. Grievance is eternal and should be respected. Something that organisations like the United States and Al Quaida apparently don’t get

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Glenn Bridgman 05.31.05 at 6:48 am

“Right cassandra. Memorial is personal and emotional, that’s why it should be de-politicised and NOT used for political ends. It should be simple and about the dead. Grievance is eternal and should be respected. Something that organisations like the United States and Al Quaida apparently don’t get”

Heres what I don’t get. Events which are onstensibly about memorializing the war dead have been used for political ends for, well, all of human history. This mock outrage at Keiran and the president is inane, because they aren’t doing anything that hasn’t been done a thousand times before.

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Cassandra 05.31.05 at 7:02 am

The dead are gone.

They are beyond our power to hurt or heal. It is the families of the dead who concern me now. And Kieran’s words cannot have been anything but unutterably painful to them, Glenn.

For one day out of 365, can’t we just let it go? Or if we cannot even spare a thought for the feelings of those who mourn, does it not occur to anyone that perhaps it might be a tad disrespectful to say, in essence, “they died for nothing” on the Memorial of their death?

For God’s sake, let the animus go just for one stinking day and let them rest in peace. I am so frigging tired of this. You cannot imagine how tired, or how it seems to us.

I don’t quibble with Kieran’s right to say what he said. I just question the need to say it on this particular day. I would not, for all the world, have caused such pain to another. I wonder that anyone would do so, and honestly trust that it was not intentional.

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Russell Arben Fox 05.31.05 at 7:09 am

Joel Turnipseed:

“Kicking Nazi ass (as well as saving the Union and gaining our independence) is about all we’ve ever done as a country for military honor–and even that honor was well-acquainted with its accompanying horrors. All the rest…[were]…just pure unadulterated bullshit. You’d think we’d have a fucking clue, but we don’t, evidently.”

This is a historical point rather marginal to the actual argument taking place in this thread, but I’m rather tired of people commonly placing WWII (specifically the war in Europe; somehow Japan doesn’t make the cut) in some sort of special category, along with the Revolution and the Civil War, and then describing every single other conflict as unwarranted, rank imperialism. Sorry, but the world is more complicated than that. By no means do I deny that elites in the U.S. have regularly used war (and a lot of conescending “patriotic” rhetoric as well) to expand American hegemony. But the whole reason it has never sufficed as an anti-war argument to cry “No blood for oil!” is because there has been, from the start, slightly more than just blood and oil at stake in Iraq.

I’ll leave it to people more knowledgable than I to judge whether the ratio of blood-and-oil to other (worthier?) causes can make for a sufficient defense of the sacrifices called for in any given war U.S. soldiers have fought in (heaven knows my original judgment of the ratio in regards to Iraq was wrong). But blanket judgments from the anti-war left are no more appropriate to Kieran’s (very balanced, I thought) suggestion than blanket condemnations of such thinking from the pro-war right.

One small example, about which I can speak with a little authority: Korea. Yes, I’ve read Bruce Cumings, I’ve read the revisionist literature, I’m familiar with how the U.S. and the Soviet Union manipulated (only partly intentionally) an emergent civil war in the Korean peninsula into a Cold War confrontation. There was a great deal of needless, terrible death in that conflict, and the aftermath of the war can and should be criticized in dozens of ways. But I can tell you with some confidence that, as screwed up and as unpopular with the locals as U.S. policy towards North Korea may long have been and currently may be, no serious person in South Korea actually wishes the U.S. hadn’t intervened. While not a “good war” in any absolute sense, it was also a war that prevented a far worse end for millions of South Koreans, both then-living and not-yet-born, a couple of dozen of whom I’m proud to call friends. This was a war, with all of its evil, through which American soldiers did some important good, and for which proud and supportive recollections on Memorial Day are appropriate and deserved.

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Henry 05.31.05 at 7:29 am

bq. ““Right cassandra. Memorial is personal and emotional, that’s why it should be de-politicised and NOT used for political ends. It should be simple and about the dead. Grievance is eternal and should be respected. Something that organisations like the United States and Al Quaida apparently don’t get”

I’m sorry, but that statement strikes me as quite extraordinarily naive. Memorialization is precisely a political act, and has always been subject to the kind of political debates that are going on in this thread. Different people have different histories, different notions of the dead that they want to honour, and different political aims associated with those notions. On this, read James E. Young, _passim_. If you don’t believe me (or Young), you really should look at the extraordinarily bitter political debates surrounding memorialization of the Holocaust (bitter among Jews, as well as in the national debates in Poland, Germany etc).

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Steve LaBonne 05.31.05 at 7:32 am

Cassandra, there are plenty of families of the dead who would very much agree with Kieran. Try telling _them_ they should shut up on Memorial Day.

It’s your self-righteousness, so politically useful to those who sent those kids to their deaths, that really needs to be questioned.

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Maria 05.31.05 at 8:10 am

I am incredulous at the self-righteous humbug of people who invoke free speech – and the sacrifice of those who died to create it – by telling people like Kieran to shut up.

As a non-American, I can’t reconcile the free speech rhetoric I’m always hearing (and profoundly respect) with the reality of US life that anyone who questions national sacred cows is spewed with vitriolic indignation aimed to silence them and nothing less.

This is just the kind of thread that stops me from blogging on US politics or foreign policy. (So I suppose the intended chilling effect works.)
I applaud Kieran and the other bloggers on CT who continue to stick their necks out to comment on US politics, knowing the opprobrium they attract for statements that are mainstream everywhere else.

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lurker 05.31.05 at 8:42 am

As a non-American, I can’t reconcile the free speech rhetoric I’m always hearing (and profoundly respect) with the reality of US life that anyone who questions national sacred cows is spewed with vitriolic indignation aimed to silence them and nothing less.

Free speech for thee but not for me. Right Maria?

The thing with free speech is that it keeps the government out of it. You are free to speak. I am free to speek. Neihter one of us is obligated to listen.

This thread is a perfect example of that concept. No one’s free speech is being abridged by acts of disagreement. This thread is EXACTLY what free speech looks like. There is only a chilling effect to the extent that you do not wish to defend your words in the marketplace of ideas. No one is denying you the freedom to do it. In fact, you can setup your own blog free of charge if you’d like. Who’s to stop you?

Oh yeah. If you haven’t noticed there’s plenty of vitriol going both ways. So to point you fingure at one said as guilty is just a bit precious.

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Mike 05.31.05 at 8:53 am

“Every single supporter of the Bush administration: you killed those troops in Iraq as surely as if you pointed the gun and fired it yourself. Their blood is on your hands, and when you cling to the flag you smear it with their blood. You have dishonored your country, and your children will curse you for it.”

“Right cassandra. Memorial is personal and emotional, that’s why it should be de-politicised and NOT used for political ends. It should be simple and about the dead. Grievance is eternal and should be respected. Something that organisations like the United States and Al Quaida apparently don’t get”

Unfortunately once again this discussion has brought it home to me that we live in different countries, and those countries pretty much hate each other. We share the same borders, the same language (mostly), the same currency. But we live on different planets. My “Red-State of Being” is far different from many here’s “Blue-State of Being” and I see no end to it. Some may say: “Well when Bush is gone it’ll be all better”. Poppycock. Does anyone think things will change with a President Clinton or a President Guiliani? Not likely. Sometimes I think it would have been far better if the South had chosen to end slavery on its own with the agreement that President Lincoln would have let us go. I know I for one wouldn’t miss the Blue-States much, and I’m sure many here would say the same of the Red States. Is this off-topic for this dicusssion? Maybe. But Jesus, we can’t even agree on a National Holiday anymore in this frickin country! That’s pathetic and sad. There’s no way this debate will ever end positively or well, nothing will get solved or resolved, it’ll just peter out to be replaced by a new round of vitriol on some other subject.

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Keith M Ellis 05.31.05 at 8:54 am

“Perhaps Americans really do like having fresh war graves to play the pipes over.”

Yes. America, to its credit, does not conform to the classic imperialist/militaristic formula. Even so, it manages to be both extremely imperialistic and militaristic. Especially the latter. We don’t have big parades with ICBMs prominantly featured, but we’re heading that direction.

I’m not exactly sure why America is so militaristic, but I suspect it’s because we’ve become very ambivalent about the liberal values that we still give lip service. Patriotism latches onto the morbid sentimentality of militarism for its rationalization.

I hadn’t heard or read any of Bush’s words yesterday. I’m a little surprised (but, alas, not hugely surprised) that Bush would so blatantly justify his war on the backs of dead soldiers. Had I been aware of this yesterday, I would have applauded Kieran’s post and said my own piece in the most vitriolic terms.

Fuck Bush. Remember that he’s the man that said “bring it on!” to the insurgents who have killed the 2,000 American soldiers that have died since the war was officially declared “won”. He has no moral standing with which to shed tears over their deaths, unless it is from guilt.

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Mitch 05.31.05 at 8:57 am

“As a non-American, I can’t reconcile the free speech rhetoric I’m always hearing (and profoundly respect) with the reality of US life that anyone who questions national sacred cows is spewed with vitriolic indignation aimed to silence them and nothing less.”

Free speech is a technical, legal concept. Having government representatives shut down a press, forcibly control content, or pasing laws that allow such are contrary to the US Const. 1st amendment. Shouting someone down, telling them to shut up, parental advisory warnings, political correctness, self-censorship are just personal, psychological manifestations. The latter might be rude or inappropriate or not fair or despicable, but it’s not illegal or unconstitutional.

You have the freedom to tell the meet the “shut-uppers” with a few “go-to-hells”.

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bi 05.31.05 at 8:59 am

lurker: I for one would question the whole idea of free speech in the first place. What’s the whole point of everyone having the right to speak, if it doesn’t result in increased understanding or better government, but just a shouting match?

Oh yes, and I don’t see how it’s disrespectful to say that the soldiers who died in the Iraq war died in vain. It’s disrespectful only to warniks who want to insist that every silly war started by every selfish politician is somehow for the Greater Good(tm), and then turn around and lambast the general sentiment of “the greater good” as being a Stalinist notion.

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Maria 05.31.05 at 9:05 am

It seems rather naive to assume the only threats to free speech are from governments. There are well established bodies of work (e.g. feminist theory, the work of chillingeffects.org) that show quite clearly that the ‘marketplace of ideas’ is heavily circumscribed by private actors.

The point isn’t the vitriol per se, it’s the idea that Kieran should just shut up. Do you understand the difference? This isn’t disagreeing with an idea, it’s trying to drown it at birth.

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lurker 05.31.05 at 9:06 am

bi: I for one would question the whole idea of free speech in the first place. What’s the whole point of everyone having the right to speak, if it doesn’t result in increased understanding or better government, but just a shouting match?

Perhaps a government regulation requiring increased understanding, maybe even providing the correct understanding? That would be much better.

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catfish 05.31.05 at 9:20 am

60 comments on Memorial day about whether Memorial Day should be a time to comment on politics! I’m surprised that people were able to take that much time off from their 24 hour fasting and meditation on the nature of military sacrifice.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 05.31.05 at 9:27 am

“Obviously the way to honor them is to get more soldiers killed so that we can try to argue that those who died previously didn’t die in vain.”

The problem with this sarcastic comment is that you don’t understand why anyone would think the Iraq war was a good idea so you can’t understand why anyone would think continuing to work on it is a good idea. A similar problem infects Kieran’s whole post. He believes that the American deaths were in fact a waste, so he cannot understand how other people do not agree with him. Approaching it from that direction leads into the host of insults that he suggests he does not intend. He cannot see the insults because he does not bother to understand the people he is insulting–both in and out of the military.

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Ray 05.31.05 at 9:37 am

Its not insulting to say that an honourable willingness to die for one’s country ended up being wasted by people who valued it too little, anymore than the old phrase about ‘lions led by donkeys’ is insulting (to the lions).

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Kieran Healy 05.31.05 at 9:37 am

He believes that the American deaths were in fact a waste, so he cannot understand how other people do not agree with him.

That’s a common diagnosis in cases like this, but it doesn’t follow at all. It’s just another kind of _ad hominem_, locating the source of the problem in a personal failing of mine. I cite and agree with a pro-war blogger in the update to the post. It’s perfectly possible to debate with supporters of the war, as long as they don’t see their goal as proving that their opponents hate America, or freedom, or soldiers, or what have you. Looking through the archives of this and my own blog will turn up plenty of civil argument with pro-war types.

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Chris Clarke 05.31.05 at 9:52 am

I wonder how many of the people who feel as some here do have written to the Tillman family to complain about their using Memorial Day to push a political agenda.

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deva 05.31.05 at 9:57 am

I went through a spurt of traveling a few weeks ago and i feel like i hot every major airport between the American mid-west and east coast. In each airport there were soldiers, mostly army guys, returning to Iraq or Afghanistan for second or third tours. Each one looked younger than my own 26 years.

Anti-war and Pro-soldier are entirely congruous positions. It might be the only coherent position. To suggest that honoring our dead can not include mourning the misjudgements that caused their deaths is patently absurd.

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michele 05.31.05 at 10:11 am

Congratulations! You seem to be the only English speaking blog that hasn’t condemned the French for voting no in the referendum, but instead tried to understand their feelings behind that vote.

This requires both a lot of intellect and empathy. It is unfortunate that your American compatriots, although claiming to be “progressive” could not make the same adjustment and were quick to jump on the European conservatives’ bandwagon.

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des von bladet 05.31.05 at 10:24 am

In dear old Blighty we still have a (non-holiday) Remembrance Day on the 11th of November, when it is by no means heretical to observe of WWI that its carnage, while certainly nobly endured, was by no means especially proportionate to the long-term geopolitical success of said war.

The idea that memorials aren’t political is a novel one, though–is there no black that is still not white in the crazy world of The Administration’s remaining apologistes?

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Jonathan Goff 05.31.05 at 10:28 am

Kieran,

I have to thank you for a well thought-out post. I’ve thought a lot about this holiday this year, and I can’t help shake the tragic feeling that most of these men’s sacrifice was an utter waste.

I guess I have a hard time revering the deaths for instance of soliders who died brutally subjugating the Philippines to American rule in 1898. I have a particularly hard time wanting to revere what they did with the same reverence and respect I have for those who gave their lives in the War of Independence. I feel sorry for their loss, but can’t sanction the cause. I have a hard time thinking about those who died in WWI without thinking how tragically wasteful every last one of their deaths were.

Most of those who died in our countries various wars were at least individually fighting for what they felt was a good and noble cause, and I *can* respect them for that. But I think that telling people to not think about the legitimacy of the wars these men died in is a sorry attempt at trying to use their deaths to sanctify the unsanctifiable. Pro-war people criticizing you for trying to score cheap political points over someone else’s tragedy are mostly just engaging in pot-kettle comparative chromatography.

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Mona 05.31.05 at 10:29 am

If Bush is to be condemned for addresing the Nation and the families of our war dead in the context of a service specifically for honoring the war dead, and promising that we shall not let them have died in vain in the context of the current war, then he stands in the same “odious” tradition of another:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who died here that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have hallowed it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Of course Bush promises the Nation, the dead and their families, that the fallen shall not have died in vain. That is not a cheap political ploy, it is what the Commander in Chief should do. Or maybe Lincoln was a cynical political hack, too.

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Kevin Donoghue 05.31.05 at 10:30 am

Just go to Gallipoli any ANZAC day to see that there’s no contradiction between solemn commemoration and the reflection that it was all a huge waste.

An American living in Australia or New Zealand would hardly be criticised for saying it was a waste. So why is it so offensive when a émigré from the People’s Republic of Cork says much the same thing?

Orin Kerr did a pretty good job of distracting attention from the main point of the post:

That these people have, in recent years, shouldered the burden of service for the sake of a badly planned war begun in the name of an ill-defined cause, on the thinnest of pretexts, and with the most flimsy sort of evidence, is an indictment of the country’s political class.

That strikes me as fair. Even supporters of the war should be able to acknowledge that it was badly planned etc.

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Kieran Healy 05.31.05 at 10:44 am

_Of course Bush promises the Nation, the dead and their families, that the fallen shall not have died in vain. That is not a cheap political ploy, it is what the Commander in Chief should do. Or maybe Lincoln was a cynical political hack, too._

Well you can’t have it both ways. Either remembrance days are appropriate arenas for politics or they are not. If they are, then Bush can speak as he did and I and others are entitled to argue with him. If they are not, then we’re both in the wrong. But you can’t have it come out so that Bush gets a free pass but his critics must stay quiet.

More broadly, your point echoes Henry’s earlier. Of course these kinds of events are always occasions where leaders use the past to speak to present concerns. (“Now we are engaged …”) That means that they are always political occasions, and the demand that critics shut up is a political position.

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Keith M Ellis 05.31.05 at 10:45 am

“It seems rather naive to assume the only threats to free speech are from governments.”

Yes, but you must remember that in the US “free speech” is taken for granted to be equivalent to the protections of the first amendment of the Constitution; and that context (as well as the whole notion of “liberty”) is strictly the relationship between government and citizen. Although it hurts my argument to admit that contemporary Americans are rather confused on this point and many are quick to cry “censorship” outside that context.

Nevertheless, my second objection to your line of thought would be that the idea of a “right” to free speech, censorship, and related issues become very amiguous and often problematic and paradoxical when the scope is broadened as you have.

Finally, in particular I don’t find this criticism from the right hypocritical in the least because it is criticism from individuals against individuals, I do not see a great imbalance of power, and there will always be things that are generally considered impolite to say in public, and which will be rebuked–and this is right and proper.

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Keith M Ellis 05.31.05 at 11:02 am

“Or maybe Lincoln was a cynical political hack, too.”

Many almost certainly claimed so at the time. Some probably still do. Although I think you’ve elided the portions of Lincoln’s speech which substantially mitigate his (arguably) self-serving justifications, I agree that there’s a valid comparison between Lincoln’s and Bush’s speeches.

I’m not sure where I stand on this matter of whether or not it is right, in principle, to use this occasion to justify a particular war policy. I am sure, however, that I deeply and vehemently disagree that it is right to do so to justify a war policy that is unjustifiable.

I am trying to ween myself of arguing with counterfactuals, but I ask you to consider where everyone’s positions would be were this debate happening in the context of a Memorial Day where Clinton had remained engaged in a drawn-out and messy conflict in Somalia and had justified a continued presence as being necessary because of the sacrifice of the soldiers. If you think that those deaths were not worth the cause for which they were fighting (as surely do many Americans feel about the few American soldiers killed in Somalia), then your perspective on the President’s Memorial Day speech changes quite dramatically. That is, I suppose that it does. I ask you to consider the possibility that it does.

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Jonathan Goff 05.31.05 at 11:21 am

Mona,

“Or maybe Lincoln was a cynical political hack, too.”

More or less. Of course look what Lincoln did to make sure they didn’t die in vain. He enslaved tens of thousands of men and forced them to fight their bretheren (shooting them if they refused to be enslaved). He had the army burn, loot, and rape their way through the South. He signed a document freeing slaves–but only in territory that he had no control over. I could go on.

So we’re supposed to consider this honoring the sacrifice of those who died for their country?

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neil 05.31.05 at 11:27 am

No way will anyone read my comment all the way down here, I suppose, but here I go anyway.

Sebastian wrote, He believes that the American deaths were in fact a waste, which exemplifies the overt political tone of the people tut-tutting at Kieran about dishonoring Memorial Day.

The logic seems to be that on Memorial Day, we must pretend that no soldier has ever died in vain.

The simple fact that this argument benefits politicians who send soldiers to their deaths should be obvious and uncontroversial.

The argument from Kieran’s detractors amounts to saying that the politicians deserve this free pass on this day; so it is not surprising why the response to this post divides up neatly along left/right lines, despite each side sanctimoniously claiming that -they- are the ones who know the true meaning of Christmas.

To me, it seems like neutrality is both called for and innately impossible, so have at it, but spare all of us the crocodile tears over the uncouthness of your opponent, whoever it may be.

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Mona 05.31.05 at 11:30 am

Mr. Healey writes: That means that they are always political occasions, and the demand that critics shut up is a political position.

They may be political, but not merely so. On such occasions the President speaks also or primarily as the Commander in Chief who holds duties to the dead and those whom he continues to lead. Reassurance and promise to complete the mission for which lives have been given is hardly an improper course for him to take. (I would add here that I am not so happy with invoking the dead in the context of campaign stumping, and believe that, at a minimum, the spouses or parents should be consulted first to learn how they feel about having their deceased loved one’s names employed in such a context.)

But when you write:

That these people have, in recent years, shouldered the burden of service for the sake of a badly planned war begun in the name of an ill-defined cause, on the thinnest of pretexts, and with the most flimsy sort of evidence, is an indictment of the country’s political class.

you are implicitly saying the fallen have died in vain. You are saying that to the dead, to their families and to the Nation. You are undermining the Commander in Chief in his promise that they have, in fact, fallen for good cause.

That is a deeply serious course for you to chart. Many reports are that 3 of 4 active military voted to re-elect their Commander in Chief in November last. You would undermine their confidence in him and are necessarily repudiating their demonstrated belief that the cause is neither ill-defined nor their battles waged on the thinnest of pretexts.

You have the right to proceed as you have, and you may be correct in your judgments. But you have a profound moral obligation to be very certain of your correctness before you tell our soldiers that their Commander in Chief is wrong and that,in fact, they have died in vain. Are you sufficiently certain?

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Mona 05.31.05 at 11:33 am

Mr.Healy, I apologize for misspelling your name above.

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Barbar 05.31.05 at 11:42 am

But you have a profound moral obligation to be very certain of your correctness before you tell our soldiers that their Commander in Chief is wrong and that,in fact, they have died in vain. Are you sufficiently certain?

Who has the burden of proof here — the politician who sends soldiers off to war, or the citizen who argues the planning is poor, the pretext is thin, and the cause is ill-defined?

Of course the critic does. He is the one with a “profound moral obligation.” Behold the power of patriotism. (Note that this argument has nothing to do with Memorial Day in particular, and should be applicable to any day of the year.)

And of course what about the military families who oppose the war, and question our cause?

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Barry 05.31.05 at 11:47 am

Don’t worry, Mona – given the contents of your post, misspelling a name is trivial.

And thanks for providing a condensed, all-in-one example of what Kieran was talking about.

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lurker 05.31.05 at 11:50 am

There are well established bodies of work (e.g. feminist theory, the work of chillingeffects.org) that show quite clearly that the ‘marketplace of ideas’ is heavily circumscribed by private actors.

This referred site is setup specifically to cmobat the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This act is an encroachment on free speech in that guilt of copyright a violation preassumed, forcing the removal of material from Web sites BEFORE rights of due process have been exercised.. The DMCA is rightly abhorred for than and other reasons.

This in no way applies to this post or these comments. No one’s right to free speech is being threatened here. Certainly Mr. Healy’s speech hasn’t chilled to the least degree.

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abb1 05.31.05 at 11:53 am

You would undermine their confidence in him and are necessarily repudiating their demonstrated belief that the cause is neither ill-defined nor their battles waged on the thinnest of pretexts.

Sounds like an extremely fragile confidence and a shallow belief if it’s so easy to undermine.

Don’t worry, though: this post can and will be used for the worthy and honorable goal of intensifying hatemongering and leveling the usual ‘stab in the back’ accusations. So, in the end it’s all for the best.

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Mona 05.31.05 at 11:56 am

Mr. Ellis writes Although I think you’ve elided the portions of Lincoln’s speech which substantially mitigate his (arguably) self-serving justifications, I agree that there’s a valid comparison between Lincoln’s and Bush’s speeches.

Just to defend my intellectual integrity, I elided nothing — I always note in anything I post when it is an excerpt and insert elipses when indicated. I posted the full text of the Gettysburg Address as found at the University of Oklahoma Law School’s Chronology of Historical Documents site. That site declares: This version of the Gettysburg Address has been verified against the version on display at the National Archives.

Mr. Ellis continues: but I ask you to consider where everyone’s positions would be were this debate happening in the context of a Memorial Day where Clinton had remained engaged in a drawn-out and messy conflict in Somalia and had justified a continued presence as being necessary because of the sacrifice of the soldiers. If you think that those deaths were not worth the cause for which they were fighting (as surely do many Americans feel about the few American soldiers killed in Somalia), then your perspective on the President’s Memorial Day speech changes quite dramatically. That is, I suppose that it does. I ask you to consider the possibility that it does.

Actually, I am conflicted over whether the American Civil War was justified. Slaughtering 600,000 men and burning whole cities to the ground in order to stop states from seceding from the Union is a very high price, and also a high price even to end the foul “peculiar institution.” But I also understand that Lincoln, as Commander in Chief of Union forces, was the absolute last person who should deliver eulogies questioning the cause, and that he had an obligation to define and steer a course best calculated to render deaths meaningful.

The Union prevailed, and the deaths are now (largely) viewed as efficacious and worth the blood. But I can understand reasonable people at the time questioning the proportionality aspect of the war.

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Chris Clarke 05.31.05 at 1:33 pm

This in no way applies to this post or these comments. No one’s right to free speech is being threatened here. Certainly Mr. Healy’s speech hasn’t chilled to the least degree.

Because Kieran’s got a backbone.

Which doesn’t mean that no attempt to infringe his free speech is occurring. People are showing up in droves to inform him that he should refrain from speaking his piece on his blog because of their sense of what yesterday was about. Expressing disagreements with his sentiment would have been one thing, but the overwhelming message here is “shut up.” Saying that no infringement is intended is disingenuousity on an Orwellian scale.

And Kieran’s refusal to shut up doesn’t change that. The Klan doesn’t get a free pass to lob Molotov cocktails at a church just because that church is made of cinderblock and asbestos.

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Sinbad 05.31.05 at 1:51 pm

Telling someone that they’ve exhibited questionable manners by notching a political cheap shot on an occasion where such cheap shots are uncalled for is just a bit different than lobbing an incendiary device into a church.

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Colonel Qaddafi 05.31.05 at 1:56 pm

“you are implicitly saying the fallen have died in vain. You are saying that to the dead, to their families and to the Nation. You are undermining the Commander in Chief in his promise that they have, in fact, fallen for good cause”

And you are implicitly saying that you have a rather cavalier attitute to the concept of conversational implicature.

The way you guys bang on about the Commander-in-Chief sure makes America sound like a banana republic. Maybe you’d be happier living in a real military dictatorship.

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Maria 05.31.05 at 1:56 pm

Eh, thanks lurker. I know what chillingeffects.org does. I brought them up quite explicitly as an example of the phenomenon of private actors who threaten free speech (as distinct from governments), not as a direct comparison with what is happening on this thread.

Keith has since pointed out that free speech in the US context is generally discussed in reference to the constitutional provisions regarding governments. Which is a fair cop on the whole. My doubts about the effectiveness of purely formal protections for speech and other rights are for another day.

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moni 05.31.05 at 2:06 pm

“You are undermining the Commander in Chief “

Wow, no less. Kieran, don’t you feel powerful, apparently you managed what not even Saddam could!

See, the context is too solemn for political criticism, but not for for involuntary self-parody.

(I’d also like to add a thanks + well done to Chris Clarke for the post he linked. Very powerful, it does honor the poem so well, sadly).

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lurker 05.31.05 at 2:11 pm

Maria,

I know what chillingeffects.org does. I brought them up quite explicitly as an example of the phenomenon of private actors who threaten free speech (as distinct from governments), not as a direct comparison with what is happening on this thread.

Not exactly. It’s private actors with the power of a bad law (DMCA) behind them. There are provisions in DMCA which violate the 1st admendment IMHO.

There is no private threat to free speech. I think you assume that certain forms of the right not to listen or of the right to disagree violate the right to speak.

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Chris Clarke 05.31.05 at 2:59 pm

Telling someone that they’ve exhibited questionable manners by notching a political cheap shot on an occasion where such cheap shots are uncalled for…

Again, an unfair and extremely politically charged characterization of what actually happened here.

My own personal belief is that people who comment on the occasion of Memorial Day, and who do not use that occasion to condemn this war, are to some degree complicit in further deaths. Kieran’s post was a model of propriety.

…is just a bit different than lobbing an incendiary device into a church.

Ya think? I wonder why they call that a reductio ad absurdum argument. (Oh, and I await your condemnation of the person who used the “buttonholing bereaved relatives at the cop’s funeral” trope.)

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Sinbad 05.31.05 at 3:21 pm

Again, an unfair and extremely politically charged characterization of what actually happened here.

In your opinion.

I wonder why they call that a reductio ad absurdum argument.

You didn’t make a reductio ad absurdam argument. You made an explicit comparison. Said comparison was self-evidently idiotic.

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Chris Clarke 05.31.05 at 3:41 pm

You didn’t make a reductio ad absurdam argument. You made an explicit comparison.

Oh, sorry. I hadn’t realized that you’re one of those lucky people who knows what other people are thinking despite what they say they’re thinking. That explains how you’re able to know that Healy actually intended to make Gold Star Mothers cry when he said something about wanting soldiers not to die any longer for a lie.

Just out of curiosity, sinbad: what am I thinking now?

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Mark Owen 05.31.05 at 3:42 pm

Kieran-
I don’t know most of your work but I do know some of it; we tend to agree on most issues. While I try on occasion to read very different (in this political climate, this means almost exclusively: opposing) views, I find it reassuring to find any other sanity that defies our contemporary marketed reality. I came across your post, in fact, from reading the piece over on the Volokh Conspiracy- a site which serves (to me) as the perfect example of a reasonable and intelligent person who can’t get around the fact the people s/he supports are fostering and perpetuating the insupportable, pretty much across the board. It is not the contortions of those who attempt to define reality on matters of record that are so remarkable; it is the contortions of those who continue to defile the first while denying the second that are so spectacular. We get to enjoy some latitude bandying our “opinions” about reality these days, yet we also face incredible vitriol for pointing out that the sky is falling- it seems all the more so because it is.
Denial is a powerful force. One reflective, I think, in just how spectacularly bent out of shape many of your detractors, who were all too eager to comment on this post, seem to be.
Thanks for the thoughtful words in a painful and complex time.

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Mona 05.31.05 at 5:54 pm

Mr. qaddafi declares: The way you guys bang on about the Commander-in-Chief sure makes America sound like a banana republic. Maybe you’d be happier living in a real military dictatorship.

How very odd. The United States is a republic held together by the rule of law including, and preeminently, by our Constitution. That document identifies a Commander in Chief. Invoking the constitutional office bequeathed to our successful democratic republic would seem not to make one a candidate for desiring a “banana republic” dictatorship, but I live and learn. Perhaps successful republics proceeding under the rule of law have no need of a military and its designated commander per the rule of law, but I, at this point, tend to doubt it.

jonathan goff writes: He [Licoln] had the army burn, loot, and rape their way through the South. He signed a document freeing slaves—but only in territory that he had no control over. I could go on.

Points virtually identical to ones I recently made at my usual cyber-hang-out, namely, the Left2Right blog. Most surprisingly, it was the left-of-center folks commenting there who objected to my denying Lincoln his bona fides as a pure abolitionist.

My post #117 was horribly afflicted — through my most grievous fault — with runaway italics. The following thoughts are mine, and not Mr. Ellis’s, as my failure to end italics after his words might not have made clear:

Actually, I am conflicted over whether the American Civil War was justified. Slaughtering 600,000 men and burning whole cities to the ground in order to stop states from seceding from the Union is a very high price, and also a high price even to end the foul “peculiar institution.” But I also understand that Lincoln, as Commander in Chief of Union forces, was the absolute last person who should deliver eulogies questioning the cause, and that he had an obligation to define and steer a course best calculated to render deaths meaningful.

The Union prevailed, and the deaths are now (largely) viewed as efficacious and worth the blood. But I can understand reasonable people at the time questioning the proportionality aspect of the war.

——————————-

As to why I argue that Mr. Healy and others are burdened with a moral obligation to consider carefully their comments claiming that our dead soldiers have fallen for no good reason. This is an academic blog or at least one comprised of intellectuals, no? Such persons hold sway over public opinion, and can, with their rhetorical skills and when enough of common mind reach critical mass, shape public opinion.

In the late 30s, screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo penned a novel, Johnny Got His Gun. It is a highly effective piece of anti-war propaganda (a word I use in a non-pejorative sense.) So powerful that Trumbo suppressed it after 1941 when Hitler turned on the U.S.S.R. and the United States went to war with Germany and Japan; at that point, Trumbo was avidly in favor of war.

Come Korea and then Vietnam, Trumbo re-released his novel, and saw it put on the silver screen. He realized the power of well-crafted criticism of war, and withheld that power when a war he approved of was engaged.

Well-spoken people in the intellectual class hold inordinate power. With power comes (or should come) moral responsibility. Hence my having asked Mr. Healy whether he is quite certain of his judgment on the merits of the Iraq war, so much so that he would approve of and contribute to a movement powerful enough to sap the morale of the military engaging in it. Such a movement succeeded in Vietnam.

Ought it always? Trumbo felt not. He understood the power of his words, and he was right to do so — even if one need not agree with when and why he decided to unleash or withhold his potent writing in any particular instance.

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sara 05.31.05 at 6:51 pm

This is a trifle late. But those who use the term “sacrifice” ought to recall its original, pre-CHristian context.

Animal sacrifice in the ancient Mediterranean involved setting aside the meat, which was eaten by the attendees at the ceremony, which was also thus a festival.

The bones and fat of the animal (ox, sheep, goat, pig) were wrapped in its skin and burned as an offering to the gods, supposedly deceiving the gods into thinking that they received the whole offering (thanks to Prometheus).

The “sacrifice” of our soldiers in this war more resembles ancient Greek animal sacrifice than the stereotypical Crucifixion. The planners of the war get the feast — their profits from the oil and defense contracting, the re-election of Bush, etc. — and the supposed beneficiary, the nation, thinking that it is defended, is cheated.

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Minh-Duc 05.31.05 at 6:52 pm

From an Iraq war veteran,

On any other day, this post is fine. But on Memorial Day, it is of extreme bad taste. The author’s point may be right, but it is the wrong day to make. The author is using the soldier’s death to score political point, it is grave robbery. Nonetheless, bad taste is first admendment right.

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El Coronel 05.31.05 at 7:05 pm

El Generalissimo, Presidente Hereditario y Inelegido, Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the People’s Army of the Theocratic Republic of San Banana, salutes Kieran Healy and the inordinately potent puppetmasters of the intellectual class.

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Karl 05.31.05 at 7:05 pm

How can remembering war dead not be politicized? These are not deaths from drunk driving, or illness, or other apolitical contexts. Recognizing this does not mean we must abandon good manners or ethics in respecting those who have died, or those families alive who have suffered loss. It is a time to remember that we are all hurt by these deaths. The willingness to question does not imply a desire to offend. In fact in honor of sacrifices made, we should question and ask, would we allow it again?

For myself this is a time to reflect on the role of war in our society, and all it touches. And is Memorial Day only for those american soldiers dead? We have been honoring the memory of those who have died in death squads in Guatemala, the deaths in Chile under Pinochet, the deaths of the US waged contra war, the deaths of those at Wounded Knee, 1890 and 1973, the many dead form nuclear testing and nuclear mining – indeed all the wars where the US has been. How can this not be political?

Is not the recognition of that fact that it is a political act to remember war dead an attempt to bring conscious, clear, critical thinking to what political acts we will find acceptable or not acceptable? I fear that in an attempt not to offend, or to blindly swallow the administration’s party line American opinion is constantly shifting what if finds acceptable, or acceptable to criticize.

That said, political grandstanding, politicking, is truly in poor taste. But bush is constantly waging PR skirmishes.

Many americans, and many from other nations don’t see these wars bringing liberty and democracy any more that Annikin Skywalker is saving the Republic. If liberty and democracy were the values being fought for, then what of our position on China, Indonesia etc… Clearly Bush’s statement is simply illogical and borne out by a quick assessment of US foreign policy.

Regarding the Red State Blue State two countries perspective, I thought that propaganda was retired as people really looked at the numbers and the lack of homogenity in any of the states once seen from the county level or seen in terms of population.

Remember more people voted against Bush than voted for Ronald Reagan.

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Barbar 05.31.05 at 7:13 pm

he would approve of and contribute to a movement powerful enough to sap the morale of the military engaging in it. Such a movement succeeded in Vietnam.

Of course. When will we learn the lessons of history?

Kieran made a silly point here, the nonsensical idea that the political class that actually sends our soldiers to war is responsible for ensuring that they do not make sacrifices in vain. What a moron! You, on the other hand, see right to the heart of the matter: it is the critics of war who are responsible for ensuring the nobility of the cause. And the critics accomplish this by not criticizing our leaders. Similarly, we can all make sure that the emperor is well-dressed by not drawing attention to the fact that he has no clothes.

With power comes (or should come) moral responsibility.

Funny.

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josh 05.31.05 at 7:20 pm

Yikes! What a thread!
As I’ve been reading through it, I’ve been thinking of Reg Keys, the father of a British soldier killed in Iraq who challenged Tony Blair in Blair’s constituency, and who, after Blair’s re-election, gave a speech, with Blair looking on, about his opposition to the war and thus Blair’s actions.
Was Reg Keys scoring a cheap political point there? I tend not to think so. I suspect that he felt that his actions were the best way for him to honour his son’s memory. And I’m inclined to bow to his judgement on that.
In light of that, I don’t see how one can maintain that criticising the war in Iraq necessarily means dishonouring the memories or devaluing the sacrifice and courage of those who have died (though one can certainly criticise the war in a way that does so; I just don’t see how what Kieran said — as opposed to what some people have chosen to perceive him as saying — does so)

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Sebastian Holsclaw 05.31.05 at 7:40 pm

He believes that the American deaths were in fact a waste, so he cannot understand how other people do not agree with him.

That’s a common diagnosis in cases like this, but it doesn’t follow at all. It’s just another kind of ad hominem, locating the source of the problem in a personal failing of mine. I cite and agree with a pro-war blogger in the update to the post. It’s perfectly possible to debate with supporters of the war, as long as they don’t see their goal as proving that their opponents hate America, or freedom, or soldiers, or what have you.

Sometimes I have trouble deciding if you are actually disagreeing with me. I have read many of your posts over the past year. Am I misinterpreting you when I suggest that you in fact believe that the American deaths in prosecuting the Iraq war were a waste? I don’t think I am. But I will gladly apologize if you would like to clearly state otherwise. It isn’t an ad hominem attack to note your position on the very issue of discussion.

“Would the same people who attack me in the comments below defend me then?”

It is somewhat surprising that the same person who can think that this is an even-handed comment for Memorial Day:

That so many are willing to serve is a testament to the character of ordinary people in the United States. That these people have, in recent years, shouldered the burden of service for the sake of a badly planned war begun in the name of an ill-defined cause, on the thinnest of pretexts, and with the most flimsy sort of evidence, is an indictment of the country’s political class.

can simultaneously complain about being attacked in the comments by people who point out that the author’s idea of ‘pretext’ might not fully encompass the reasons ordinary people might have thought it was appropriate to go to war.

You see your own attacks as good faith efforts to engage in dialog, while you see other’s far less obnoxious comments as attacks.

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nick 05.31.05 at 9:05 pm

Invoking the constitutional office bequeathed to our successful democratic republic would seem not to make one a candidate for desiring a “banana republic” dictatorship, but I live and learn.

It’s the manner of the invocation, mona: the notion offered (implicitly by some, explicitly by others) that when Bush acts ex officio as Commander-in-Chief, he is immune to political criticism; or that when he acts as C-in-C, he does so in a non-partisan fashion. Perhaps that’s a reflection of the perspectives of those from nations whose military commanders-in-chief are not the political chief executive; but one doesn’t have to look that far back to see many on the right essentially refusing to acknowledge Clinton’s constitutional role as C-in-C.

And perhaps Bush would be in a better position to talk about the sacrifice of war if he offered policies that demonstrated a shared sense of sacrifice. Or, y’know, attended a military funeral or two.

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Ted 05.31.05 at 9:06 pm

You know, in my view what the pro-war supporters could most effectively do to signify their patriotism and support of the troops would be to quit wasting time posting messages on the Internet and instead go and enlist. The Army, Marines and National Guard are all seriously behind in their enlistments, threatening the success of the mission that the pro-war crowd believes in so strongly. And yet they act as though they believe that the war is noble and important enough for other people to die in, but not them.

“I am angry that so many of the sons of the powerful and well-placed… managed to wangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units…Of the many tragedies of Vietnam, this raw class discrimination strikes me as the most damaging to the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe equal allegiance to their country.” (Colin Powell’s autobiography, My American Journey, p. 148)

He’s talking about Ashcroft, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, etc., of course, but maybe this war will be different.

Ted

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mark 05.31.05 at 9:13 pm

In the USA Memorial day and Veterans day are, in effect, celebrations of a militaristic culture. In addition to having to suffer through yet another ritual of compulsory patriotism, the infinite repetition of hoary platitudes and all manner of martial exhibitionism, those of us who oppose this culture of militarism and question the implications of its celebration are told to “shut up” because we “politicize” the day and dishonor the dead. We are, alas, in poor taste. My ass.

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Mona 05.31.05 at 10:17 pm

Ted writes: The Army, Marines and National Guard are all seriously behind in their enlistments, threatening the success of the mission that the pro-war crowd believes in so strongly. And yet they act as though they believe that the war is noble and important enough for other people to die in, but not them.

Well Ted, I’m a grandmother, and one who has buried an adult son. If you are not a member of that “dead kid club,” you have nothing to say to me on the issue. But in any event, I doubt I’m what they are looking for at the recruitment office.

Your smug certitude that all who find merit in liberating the ME from tyranny so that fanaticism might decline as a danger to the free world, causes me to flirt with language of the sort I almost always refrain from; I think you can gather what it is I’d be inclined to say. I shall settle for pointing out that I hope, very devoutly, that my grandsons are not called to war when they reach the age, but I also recall being 800 miles from them on 9/11 and fearing the entire nation was under attack.

How lovely for those of you who live in a world where the (non-existent) perfect is wielded to condemn those who can only settle for the best good.

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Juke Moran 06.01.05 at 2:23 am

One of the most important functions of a day like Memorial Day is to bring a kind of solidarity to those who remember all year long.
It’s no disservice to the fallen, or their comrades and kin, to point out as Kieran did soberly and honestly, that their sacrifice can be misused.
And now that it’s safely past once again, I don’t think it’s inconsiderate to point out there’s something crass and shallowly insincere about making a national day of mourning and remembrance something that can be arbitrarily tacked onto a weekend.

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Ben Bauman 06.01.05 at 5:46 am

Memorial Day is to honor all those who have died in the service of our country for the past 229 years, just not the most recent conflict, poltics aside.

Commander
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9949

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RSL 06.01.05 at 6:57 am

I don’t support the war

I don’t support the troops

I don’t support the President

I’m sick of the new American militarism

We need to get rid of the massive standing army that’s threatening our liberties, just as the founders predicted it would

Memorial day should be for the conscientious objectors, the dissenters, those who resist the temptation to sentimentalize the brutal destruction of war–not for those who volunteer to perpetuate it

There, I said it. I feel much better.

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Michael Turner 06.01.05 at 7:05 am

Mona, I’m not a member of any “dead kid club”, so what I’m about to say might fall on deaf ears.

I might consider this supposed project of “liberating the ME from tyranny so that fanaticism might decline as a danger to the free world” to be a noble one if it met certain conditions. I don’t see those conditions being met.

For one thing, it wasn’t started with that goal in mind, but with an endless “Saddam-bin Laden” mantra, repeated numbingly to sway those who didn’t already (falsely) equate the two. I.e., it wasn’t really about our freedom, or anybody’s freedom. Rather, the core message was about our ostensible security.

For another, if the project fails, it could lead to civil war, killing millions. There is no Hippocratic Oath in war, of course. In war, one *must* do harm. But what if we create a situation in which the damage is catastrophic. What we will say then? “Oops. Oh, well.”?

For another, if it succeeds in ‘liberating the ME from tyranny’ … well, it’s not necessarily going to lead to a decline in fanaticism. Quite the contrary, I think. Scholars on the subject of modern terrorism point out that the overriding pattern (especially for suicide bomber terrorism) is that the attackers consider themselves to be fighting in the noble cause of wresting claimed (but contested) territory away from liberal democracies. Why from democracies? Because terrorism is next to useless against police states, which are, after all, very well policed and tightly controlled. Like Saudi Arabia. And who was it I read was strolling hand in hand with one of the tyrants of Saudi Arabia a few weeks ago? Ah, it was George W. Bush.

Finally, given the possibility of failure in any such supposedly noble endeavor, it’s interesting that this administration chose a target with a plausibly-profitable but not terribly noble exit strategy: in Iraq, they can fall back and carve out a New Israel in the form of a Kurdistan that includes the oil-rich region of Kirkuk, long claimed and coveted by the Kurds and with oil reserves worth about a trillion dollars in today’s prices (prices which can only go up over the next few decades.) With all the tyrannies in the world, why did Bush & Co pick one like Saddam’s, one with such a tempting moral hazard in regional partition if things get too hot, rather than one like North Korea, which was practically bragging about having WMD capability, but, alas, has no wealth of natural resources to be extracted?

“How lovely for those of you who live in a world where the (non-existent) perfect is wielded to condemn those who can only settle for the best good.”

Hey, I would have been fine with a “best good” of continued weapons inspections in Iraq, while keeping the pressure on. We might eventually have discovered, at zero cost in “dead kids”, what we finally discovered later at a higher, and continuing, cost: there was no WMD threat from Iraq worthy of the name, and Arab tyrannies like Saddam’s have even more to fear from fanaticism than we do. Sure, it sucks when even the “best good” sucks. But sometimes it does. This might have been one of those cases. Time was, at least to people like Rumsfeld, the “best good” was going and meeting Saddam and promising military aid in Iraq’s war with the fanatic regime of Iran. Yes, even *after* Halabja. Think of that when you think of what a handsome man our Rummy is. And ask yourself: do you really trust him?

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Conchis 06.01.05 at 7:07 am

I’m curious as to why no-one’s taken a middle position on this: that Kieran’s post was utterly reasonable… right up until the last sentence; that it does not dishonour the dead to use this day as a reminder of the general (and I would hope unobjectionable) principle that war is an evil – if sometimes a necessary one – that is never to be undertaken lightly (indeed, in a sense I think it would unconscionable not to); but that perhaps commenting in such strong terms on Iraq was, if not outright objectionable, then at least in poor taste – and probably, unless one’s goal was merely to preach to the converted, counterproductive.

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Ted 06.01.05 at 8:03 am

Mona –

Obviously I wasn’t referring to those who were too old to serve, although even then there are plenty of people in a position to be urging others to enlist that aren’t doing it, or they might be calling for a tax increase on their rich selves in order to pay for better equipment, etc, and they aren’t doing that either. There are certainly war supporters who don’t fit those categories, and I should have made that clearer. Certainly not “all” have avoided service, but I continue to hold that taking the position that this is a vital, crucial war for the ending of tyranny and that other people – but not me – should die for it is shameful.

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Kevin Donoghue 06.01.05 at 8:10 am

…commenting in such strong terms on Iraq was, if not outright objectionable, then at least in poor taste….

It seems to me that “a badly planned war begun in the name of an ill-defined cause, on the thinnest of pretexts, and with the most flimsy sort of evidence” is an accurate description. The war was not well planned, the cause was not well defined, the lawyers had a hard time making something of the pretext and the evidence has been thoroughly discredited. If the indictment seems a bit strong, that’s because the facts of the case are unpleasant. In such a context complaints about poor taste are a little too fastidious.

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john 06.01.05 at 8:12 am

The sensitivity on the topic reflects the fact that is does indeed slighlty diminish the value of the sacrifice of the dead if the validity of the cause they died for is questioned, just as it elevates their heroism if the cause is praised as essential.

And so reserving one day to put aside that larger debate seems only proper. We speak well of the dead at funerals, we refrain from telling scandalous stories of a bride at her wedding, and we call these simple choices good manners.

Would anyone approach the family member of a dead serviceman at their funeral to argue that the cause they died for was unjust, futile, or otherwise less than heroic?

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Kevin Donoghue 06.01.05 at 10:17 am

Did Tennyson diminish the reputation of the Light Brigade with the phrase someone had blundered? I don’t think so, though I can see why the likes of Lord Raglan would be offended.

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neil 06.01.05 at 10:58 am

Election Day is not a day to tell our soldiers they died in vain.. vote Republican!

What a bunch of emotionally manipulative hooey. Thank you, mona, for coming in and demonstrating that what all this bitching and moaning is really all about is saying ‘this should be a day on which nobody challenges my biases.’ If Memorial Day is really just a time for everybody who doesn’t support the war to shut up, then it is about politics rather than about soldiers’ lives. You can’t have it both ways.

I am open to the idea that challenging the concept of the war might reopen old wounds among military families who have gotten over their losses by telling themselves that their son died saving the world. But I certainly don’t think it’s my responsibility to tiptoe around these delusions of grandeur. On Memorial Day we honor _all_ soldiers for their bravery and sacrifice — not for their individual achievements or wisdom of their civilian leadership.

Shame on the jingoists who have hijacked this thread to tell everyone that the honor of soldiers depends on the integrity of their leaders.

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Michael Turner 06.01.05 at 11:02 am

Kevin Donoghue beat me to it.

“The sensitivity on the topic reflects the fact that is does indeed slighlty diminish the value of the sacrifice of the dead if the validity of the cause they died for is questioned …”

Yes, but Memorial Day isn’t about the value of the sacrifice. It’s about those who made the sacrifice.

War is the continuation of diplomacy by violent means. And diplomacy is the art of manipulative messages in international affairs. Acts of war are actions that speak louder than words. But they are still messages, and political messages at that. Those who direct these international political messages are seldom making the actual sacrifices. Especially these days. Time was, the political class sent their kids off to war (when those kids didn’t join up entirely of their own volition.) We probably got JFK only because Joe Jr went down with his plane. Participation in risking the ultimate sacrifice was considered a source of legitimation for the privilege of potential access to the authority to send lethal messages to other countries (lethal to our own soldiers as well as the soldiers of others). There’s something to be said for that. Whatever happened to it, anyway?

Someone should put it to George Bush: would he avoid combat service if he were in his twenties again, and continuing in Iraq meant a draft? Of course he’d say he’d sign up in heartbeat, but I’d like to be reading his face on the TV monitor. Is he urging his daughters to join up, now? Somehow I don’t think so. Sorry to drag out the old “Chicken Hawk” chestnut, but if it’s all about going abroad to fight for other people’s freedom, wasn’t that what Vietnam was supposedly about, “making the world safe for democracy”? And yet, he didn’t go. So who is he to sit in relative safety and use the letters of the dead from a war of his choice as a propaganda shield for his choice of international political messages on Memorial Day? Talk about your defensive position …. and talk about politicizing Memorial Day! Did he bother with more than glancing mention of the dead from any *other* war of ours (most of which have been considerably more lethal)? I’d go read his speech, but I’m too disgusted at the moment.

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Conchis 06.01.05 at 12:45 pm

Kevin,

There’s a difference between a statement being:

(a) accurate;
(b) appropriate; and
(c) productive.

I agree that Kieran’s was accurate. My quarrel is mostly with the terms in which he expressed it. Even then, it’s not really a personal quarrel, in the sense that I myself find the statement inappropriate, but more just that it should have been obvious that a lot of people would.

Now, obviously the fact that some people find something inappropriate isn’t much of a reason not to say it if there is a greater good to be served. But in this case, the exact opposite seems true: you’re unlikely to bring people around to your point of view by offending them.

NB: None of this is to say that Kieran is somehow a ‘bad person’ for making the comment. We all say thinks that offend people without doing much good coming of it. It’s simply to say that perhaps it could have been done a little better.

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lurker 06.01.05 at 2:10 pm

Michael Turner,
I can’t resist the opportunity to refute the chickenhawk argument that you couldn’t resist making…

Bush volunteered to serve in Vietnam but was turned away.

National Review
Newsweek via MSNBC

Perhaps if he’d left the National Guard and joined the infantry he would then have been qualified by your critiria to stand for the office of Commander in Chief. Should we have an amendment to add “military combat veteran” to the requirements to hold that office?

Mr. Healy, Please accept my apologies for polluting this thread further.

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RSL 06.01.05 at 3:39 pm

Can I suggest that everyone following this thread (on both sides of the issue, liberal and conservative) read the following book review published in, of all places, Pat Buchanan’s rag, American Conservative. Then read Bacevich’s book.

http://www.amconmag.com/2005_05_23/article1.html

Bacevich is a self-proclaimed conservative (and had a long career in the military before getting his PhD at Princeton and becoming a professor at Boston University) but his arguments have great appeal I think to liberals as well as conservatives.

154

Ted 06.01.05 at 4:29 pm

Lurker –

Now find something similar for Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz…

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james 06.01.05 at 5:02 pm

War is either an option or it isn’t. If there are some set of factors that make war an option, what exactly are they? Using Saddam as an example:

He didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. Except for the ones he had (Chemical, Biological). He didn’t have illegal weapons programs. Except for the ones he had (missile technology, chemical weapon delivery technology). Exactly how many people is a leader required to murder before war becomes justified? Then of coarse UN approval is mandatory for any country to invade another country. Except for when it doesn’t matter (Bosnia, Ivory Coast, Hati, etc).

Am I the only one missing some obvious lack of consistency in the arguments for keeping Saddam in power?

156

abb1 06.02.05 at 8:15 am

…arguments for keeping Saddam in power…

Oh, was it you keeping him in power all that time? You sound a bit like a megalomaniac, James.

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Doctor Slack 06.02.05 at 11:59 am

He didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. Except for the ones he had . . . He didn’t have illegal weapons programs. Except for the ones he had . . .

Better call the White House immediately, James. Apparently you have access to some convincing evidence that several rounds of weapons inspectors missed — and you’re holding out on them! That’s damn near treasonous. Why do you hate America and want it to fail?

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Michael Turner 06.02.05 at 1:50 pm

“Bush volunteered to serve in Vietnam but was turned away.”

No, he “inquired” (see the article) about a program offering flight time in Vietnam (according to some who served with him when he happened to be around in the Air National Guard.) He didn’t qualify, and there’s no evidence that he then set about trying to qualify. Talk about your seriousness of purpose.

“Perhaps if he’d left the National Guard and joined the infantry he would then have been qualified by your critiria to stand for the office of Commander in Chief.”

That’s not a criterion of mine for being President. But if I have a criterion for having seriously tried to go fight in a war, it would be … having seriously tried to go fight in a war. Sounds like Dubya didn’t. An idle inquiry doesn’t cut it.

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Michael Turner 06.02.05 at 1:56 pm

“He didn’t have illegal weapons programs. Except for the ones he had (missile technology, chemical weapon delivery technology).”

Haven’t looked into the supposed chemical weapons delivery technology (‘less you talkin’ ’bout those weedwacker UAV’s agin?) But as for the “illegal missile technology”, I seem to remember the beef being that, WITHOUT warheads, certain of these missiles exceeded the allowed range for missiles WITH warheads. (I’m no rocket scientist, but I do know that rockets go much further without payloads.)

Well, that was still too rich for some people’s blood, so Iraq began a *monitored* program of destroying those missiles. As I remember it. Correct me if I’m wrong. I guess it was some kind of perverse, evil, deceptive attempt to be appear to be acting in good faith — which only proo-oo-ooves that they really had WMD somewhere.

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W. Kiernan 06.02.05 at 5:13 pm

I didn’t take Memorial Day off, I went to work. But my father was a disabled veteran, and I remember him every day. On Memorial Day the idea is, Americans are supposed to remember their dead soldiers. Not cheerlead for their taskmasters.

Now, with regard to all this phony fake-offended whining (eric, ray, oren, “lurker,” etc., etc., ad nauseam): Kieran Healy is not an American.

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Alixtii 06.03.05 at 6:37 pm

If one believes that the myth of Santa Claus is doing an active harm to one’s child–indeed, if people are dying because of that myth–then Christmas Day is precisely the correct day to tell your child Santa doesn’t exist.

BTW, I still believe in Santa Claus. I can discriminate between a harmful myth and an empowering one.

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None 06.03.05 at 11:56 pm

If the same people who criticize Kieran for this post actually thought he could legitimately criticize this war without being called anti-American, then they might have a point – or at least not be hypocrites. But these people don’t criticize Bush when he politicizes Memorial Day, and they don’t particularly like criticism of the war any day of the year.

So they can honor the dead on Memorial Day as they see fit, and I can honor them by understanding that it’s the moral obligation of people not to permit the political class to continue to send more young people to die in a war that was waged on the thinnest of pretexts.

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