Memorial Day 2011

I would attend Memorial Day services if…

I would attend Memorial Day services if the churches were not festooned with military flags and the emblems of war and conquest. It would be more appropriate to have flags of peace and pictures of war’s pity and grief so the congregation might be better reminded of its brutality and the colossal destruction and waste of human life war has always caused.

I would attend Memorial Day services if they laid wreaths of the white poppies of peace rather than the red poppies of the Legion. It seems to me that the red poppies have lost their original meaning as remembrance for the unspeakable destruction of human life and the commitment to ensuring ‘never again’; instead, they valorize the heroic dead, plaster over the waste of human life, and make the call to sacrifice a noble gesture. The white poppies, in contrast, symbolize an explicit commitment to finding alternatives to ritual slaughter and the remembrance of all the victims of war, soldier and civilian alike.

I would attend Memorial Day services if they said prayers for all the victims of war, and not just the soldiers sent to kill. It seems obscene to me to pray solely for those who rained down death on their fellow human beings, and not for the countless, nameless, innocent people they killed in the name of patriotism, militarism, imperialism.

I would attend Memorial Day services if the clergy prayed for the forgiveness of the massacres, the unlawful killings, the torture, the brutality and the crimes committed by our own soldiers acting in our name. It is a willful deception to pretend that our soldiers have not committed grievous crimes against humanity, that they have not fought in wars of aggression and imperialism to enslave others and pursue our own material gain. Some prayers for forgiveness for this long history of brutality would seem to be in order when we remember war.

I would attend Memorial Day services if prayers were prayed against the venal, cowardly, vainglorious politicians who are so willing to spill the blood of fellow humans so freely, who hunger for the glory of military victory, who believe that national identity requires an enemy to defeat and humiliate, and who lack the intelligence, imagination and moral courage to find a non-violent solution to their conflicts. Politicians are the slave-owners of previous centuries, prisoners of a brutish bygone era, moral luddites who refuse to believe in the ethical progress on plain view before their eyes. To them, the discrediting of eugenics, the establishment of universal human rights, women’s emancipation, and the growth of global environmental responsibility are as nothing; they still see the orgy of organized killing as a necessary response to human conflict – as if slavery could be an alternative to multiculturalism. They are the enemies of humanity, a demonic force to be resisted, dangerous lunatics.

I would attend Memorial Day services if the priests and clergy took the opportunity to preach a message of peace and non-violence: if they spoke of Jesus’ commands to turn the other cheek, to love your enemy, and to pray for those that persecute you; if they recounted how Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, and how he was called the Prince of Peace; how in his first sermon, Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’; how Christians are commanded to work towards the coming of God’s kingdom when swords will be beaten into ploughshares and no one will study war anymore. The Jesus I read about in the Gospels would never shoot someone in the face or drop a bomb on their house, tearing the bodies of children into pieces. He would never light someone on fire with a flame-thrower to hear their flesh bubble and burn in the heat. The Jesus I read about would lay down his life, rather than call down his army, even when he was unjustly persecuted by an occupying imperial power.

I would attend Memorial Day services if they spoke the truth about why we sent our best young men to war, instead of telling blatant lies about how they fought for our liberty, how they died so we might be enjoy democracy. More often than not, they were sacrificed on the altar of imperialism and greed or the venal stupidity of politicians. Few soldiers I know join to fight for country or patriotism; they most often fight instead for bread, opportunity denied them through unjust social structures, or their mates.

I would attend Memorial Day services if the clergy made it clear that according to Christian doctrine, war is evil, and that the Just War doctrine used to legitimize military force today was written by clergymen, not by Jesus Christ, and that it has little basis in scripture. The clergy need to make it clear that this man-made doctrine of Just War is based on the proposition that war is evil, even though sometimes it may be a greater evil not to go to war – but that the most important point is that war can never be good; it is inherently and irrevocably evil. This point has never been made in any Remembrance Day service I have ever attended or seen.

I would attend Memorial Day services if the clergy followed Christ’s example and refused to serve in the military, refused to bless militarized patriotism, prayed for our enemies instead, and if the church made clear its first loyalty to God’s kingdom of peace and justice.

I would attend Memorial Day services if such rituals were not part of the social infrastructure of military propaganda that primes people to accept violence as normal and makes war likely again.

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About richardjacksonterrorismblog

I am currently the Deputy Director of the National Peace and Conflict Studies Centre at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Prior to this, I was Professor of International Politics at Aberystwyth University in Wales, UK. I study and teach on issues of terrorism, political violence, conflict resolution and war. I have published several books on these topics, including: Terrorism: A Critical Introduction (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011; co-authored with Lee Jarvis, Jeroen Gunning and Marie Breen Smyth); Contemporary State Terrorism: Theory and Cases (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010; edited by Richard Jackson, Eamon Murphy and Scott Poynting); Critical Terrorism Studies: A New Research Agenda (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009; edited by Richard Jackson, Marie Breen Smyth and Jeroen Gunning); Conflict Resolution in the Twenty-first Century: Principles, Methods and Approaches (Ann Arbor MI: Michigan University Press, 2009; co-authored with Jacob Bercovitch); and Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counterterrorism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005). I am also the editor-in-chief of the academic journal, Critical Studies on Terrorism.
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3 Responses to Memorial Day 2011

  1. Matt says:

    Very eloquent post Richard – and I couldn’t agree more.

    • An excellent post.

      It is timely, of course. Britain is at war in Libya and in Afghanistan, and its military casulaties are honoured and on display in practically all aspects of life: schools, nurseries, TV shows, charitable events, and sporting occasions, most recently when Manchester United were awarded the Premier League champions trophy.
      USBlog has noted numerous times the militarisation of British national life, and the great discomfort it causes those who take the views that Richard so eloquently, and sensitively, espouses. This discomfort with “military sacrifice” and “heroism” exists at all levels including at the very pinnacles of British government and state.

      I’ve been reading Sherard Cowper-Coles’s book, Cables From Kabul, which is very enlightening about the mindsets of British and American elites as a seemingly endless war rages in Afghanistan. Cowper-Coles is a loyal servant of the Crown but refers to the mission in that tragic country as “a kind of military colonialism” foisted on a country and people who have little say in in their own affairs. He also indicates the lack of “balance” and levels of deference towards the military that exist today. This makes it “awkward and unpatriotic to criticise that [military] machine…”

      Managing the war machine is not easy, Cowper-Coles argues: in the Ministry of Defence, he says, top civilian officials are “treated by their military colleagues rather as second-class citizens”, making it difficult to argue with military planners. In addition, even Cabinet Ministers don’t know, and appear unwilling to find out, the difference between a Tornado ground attack aircraft “and a torpedo” and, therefore could not “possibly question the Chief of the Defence Staff on this”.

  2. It Starts with You says:

    I guess that is why your blog design has military jets in the header.

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