by Howie Hawkins
Memorial Day is a federal holiday on which we honor and mourn the members of the US Armed Forces who have died in service.
Lamentably, militarism, rather than mourning, is the dominant theme in too many commemorations.
It may only be coincidence that my running mate, Angela Walker, and my campaign manager, Andrea Mérida, are Army veterans, and our campaign’s national organizer, Brian Powers, is a Navy veteran. What we all share drawing on our military experience is a commitment this Memorial Day to not only to mourn fellow veterans who died in service, but also to end US wars of imperial conquest abroad that put our servicemembers and people around the world wrongfully in harms way.
We must understand, particularly people who are not in military families, that most people join the armed forces for honorable and/or practical reasons, not to fight foreign wars of conquest.
Many join branches of the armed forces because they want to be serve their country in humanitarian missions like disaster relief as well as national defense, usually with little understanding that US foreign wars have been about global domination rather than national defense and humanitarian aid.
Others join the armed forces for a job, job training, and the GI benefits and opportunities they receive during and after their period of enlistment.
Some of us whose draft numbers were called for the Vietnam War enlisted, in my case in the Marine Corps, in order to join the GI Resistance to the Vietnam War that limited on US military options and helped end the war.
Yes, some join for the status of being a warrior. Worse, some join because they believe in a racist religious crusade for a US-led white Christian domination of the world, but they are a minority.
Memorial Day grew from the grassroots to commemorate the Civil War dead in many places around the country, a war in which 620,000 died, two-thirds from disease.
The first major commemoration was conducted by recently-freed black people in Charleston, South Carolina in 1865. They spent two weeks properly reburying at least 257 Union soldiers who had died in a Confederate prison camp and were dumped in unmarked graves. 10,000 mostly black Charlestonians held a parade and tribute to the Union soldiers who had contributed to the end of slavery.
The Civil War origins of Memorial Day was always something I knew from my family coming up because two of my great-great grandfathers died serving in the Union Army. My father and two uncles served in World War II, with one of the uncles staying in for 40 years and now buried in the Veterans Administration’s Punchbowl Cemetery in Honolulu, Hawaii. I have cousins and nephews who have served or are serving now. None of them joined to fight foreign wars of conquest.
Our campaign is acutely aware that the US global military empire is a bipartisan affair.
As US deaths from the coronavirus now exceed the deaths of all US servicemembers in all the wars since Vietnam, President Trump spent Memorial Day weekend playing golf and tweeting insults at political opponents and scientific studies documenting his incompetent coronavirus response.
Even worse than Trump’s contemptible tweeting has been his pro-war policies and actions and his callous disregard for servicemembers. In the last two weeks alone, the Trump administration has:
- Provided the sole objection that blocked a UN Security Council resolution calling for a global ceasefire so the nations of the world can focus on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Supported the pending annexation of Israeli settlements on the West Bank to the State of Israel.
- Withdrawn the US from the Open Skies Treaty, which allows its remaining 33 signatories to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over each others’ territories to observe military forces and nuclear weapons installations in order to verify arms control and peace treaty obligations.
- Refused to negotiate an extension the New START strategic nuclear arms treaty, the last bilateral nuclear arms treaty between the US and Russia that expires next February 5.
- Floated a trial balloon about resuming nuclear weapons testing for the first time since 1992, which would be in violation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that the US signed in 1996, but which the Senate voted not to ratify.
- Ordered that the deployments of 40,000 National Guard members currently helping states test residents for the corona virus and trace the spread of infections will stop on June 24—just one day 90-day threshold for qualifying for early retirement and education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI bill.
- Threatened to intercept Iranian oil tankers bringing oil to Venezuela, which started arriving in this weekend, thus threatening to start a hot war in the Caribbean and the Middle East, a war that Trump could use to divert attention from his pernicious response to corona virus health and economic crisis.
Biden has been largely silent on these recent developments. He did say the US should not withdraw from the Open Skies treaty. But while he criticized the pending Israel move to annex the West Bank settlements, he also said there would be no consequences, such as a cut to US military aid to Israel, if the annexation goes forward. Last week Biden’s top foreign policy advisor, Anthony Blinken, said Biden would continue Trump’s occupation of the oil fields in Syria for leverage in negotiations.
Biden’s silence on Trump’s warmongering is consistent with his long record as a foreign and military policy hawk. Indeed, he is trying to out-hawk Trump on China, which is further escalating tensions when the US should be seeking mutual cooperation with China on the life-or-death problems of the pandemic, the climate meltdown, and the new nuclear arms race.
Our campaign is committed to transforming the US from the global military empire to the world’s humanitarian superpower by engaging in a multilateral Global Green New Deal to stop the climate meltdown and build an economic recovery out of the coronavirus depression. The US can make friends instead of enemies and make peace with the planet by helping the nations of the world build clean energy and production systems that meet the basic needs of all in an ecologically sustainable manner.
On this Memorial Day, let us remember the advice of the labor crusader, Mother Jones: “Mourn the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”