Aaron Brakel's letter about his encounter with the Coast Guardsman who suggested he leave the country if he didn't support the war in Iraq got me thinking about Memorial Day.
It doesn't surprise me that many active military personnel and military veterans heap abuse on the anti-war protesters of today and of the Vietnam era. Armies can only function due to the principle of blind obedience, and moral people who sign on to kill their fellow human beings in foreign lands can only do so if they are able to substitute their own innate repugnance with some higher moral value. At its noblest, this value is the desire to protect oppressed peoples, or to protect our own country, sacrificing one's life if necessary. However, when the goals are not so clear, when the good guys and bad guys are less easy to distinguish, it is easy for soldiers and their families to seek refuge in the empty jingoism of God, flag and my country right or wrong. The armies of empires, religious crusades, Fascist dictators and predatory colonial powers have marched off to conquest with those same slogans for millennia.
Democracies are based on the opposite of blind obedience. They function best when an informed populace keeps careful watch over those who represent us. Our job as citizens is to ensure that the lives of our military men and women, who cannot question, are not squandered by corrupt, grasping politicians or the economic interests that so heavily influence them. Woe unto this country and this world if we the people are ever cowed into obedient silence.
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