… Dying for a
Today, to escape the hectic stress of life for a moment, I took a stroll through the cemetery in the town where I grew up. I saw lots of names I knew, but the main thing I noticed was how many American flags were adorning grave sites, and how many gravestones mentioned that the deceased had either died in combat or served in the military. If I were a good, loyal, patriotic American, the sight would have filled me with nationalistic pride, and thankfulness for the soldiers’ sacrifice. But it didn’t. It filled me with sadness. There is no greater love than that shown by someone who lays down his life for his friends. But there is no greater tragedy than someone laying down his life for a lie. And that is exactly what every soldier, of every country, who dies in battle, does.
I can already feel the outrage many will have at reading that. The last thing the flag-wavers, and especially the friends and families of fallen soldiers, want to consider is the possibility that, rather than being a great and noble sacrifice for the greater good–for freedom, security, peace, whatever–those who died in battle accomplished absolutely nothing worthwhile. Nothing. Those who parrot the phrase, "If you love your freedom, thank a veteran," are deluding themselves. The goal of the U.S. military has never been freedom, for you or anyone else. It’s a gang that engages in turf wars with other gangs, and that’s all it has ever been.
That’s why I found the cemetery so depressing. It’s a travesty that so many courageous humans have died, acting as pawns in games played by tyrants. What makes it worse is that, because the nationalistic, authoritarian indoctrination has been so successful, this is likely to continue for many years to come. And, perhaps saddest of all, it could be prevented if the friends and families of aspiring soldiers could set aside their blind nationalism long enough to see reality objectively, and then do anything in their power to stop the person from becoming a mercenary for the politicians.
Today I stood over the grave of a young man who died in Iraq. The gravestone talks about "love" and "service." I admit, it made me tear up, but not for the reason it would make "good Americans" tear up. It made me tear up to know that this young man, who by all accounts was a principled, giving, kind human being, had been duped into giving up his life for a lie. His courage, his integrity, were thrown away for nothing. His death accomplished nothing. The young man’s virtues were twisted and exploited, to convert him into a tool to be used and then thrown away by some of the most evil people on the planet.
But who wants to be the one to point this out to the friends and family of the dead young man? I don’t. But what happens if no one ever points it out? If no one does, then the pattern will continue. Thousands of young men and women will continue to be trained to feel profound pride and pack mentality, to the point where they will kill, or die, for a lie. And this is not unique to this country. Pretty much every war consists of two large numbers of basically decent human beings who have been twisted, corrupted, duped and deceived, exploited and manipulated, to the point where they will create hell on earth, engaging in prolonged, widespread mass murder, torture and terrorism, in the name of some abstract nothing. Sadly, both sides will do this, both believing their cause and their "country" to be righteous, and both being dead wrong–literally.
The comfortable, easy, feel-good response would be to "honor" fallen soldiers, treat them as brave heroes who fought for freedom, served their country–to be thankful for their "sacrifice," as if by giving their lives they somehow benefitted humanity and justice. But that is a lie, and repeating the lie will only lead to more people dying for the same lie. I don’t doubt the courage of soldiers, but bravery without understanding, more often than not, ends up doing more damage than good. And that is the case with every war.
Somewhere, in others countries around the world–Korea, Vietnam, Germany, Japan, etc.–there are other cemeteries, filled with the graves of brave, patriotic men and women who fought and died for the same lie. It’s very likely, for example, that somewhere in Korea is a gravestone marking where a decent, honest man lies dead, having been killed by one of the decent, honest American men whose grave sites I visited today.
Must we continue this insanity? Must we continue to allow those who crave dominion to divide and conquer us, to turn man against man, riling up millions to engage in vicious brutality and bloodshed? Must we keep acting as pawns for tyrants of all nationalities, and continue to be duped into exterminating each other, for the benefit of liars and crooks?
If I had a universal rewind button, and could go back and talk to that young man for a bit, before he joined the military, maybe give him a book to read, maybe challenge his assumptions a bit–maybe I wouldn’t have stood over his grave today. Now it’s too late. But it’s not too late for the next one. However uncomfortable it might be, those of us who see through the lie must do whatever we can to keep the next generation from falling for it. Trying to avoid making waves, by repeating the lie that has cost so many millions their lives, does not serve anyone, except tyrants and megalomaniacs. If, by stepping out of your comfort zone, you might have a chance to keep the next young man from needlessly dying, scared and alone, bleeding in the dirt in some foreign country, how could that not be worth it? And if some people condemn you for your lack of blind loyalty and "patriotism," or get angry at you for exposing the lethal lie that they have always believed and repeated, is that really too big a price to pay to save a life … or a million?
(P.S. At the risk of bankrupting myself even more than I already am, I’ve decided to give a discount, down to $8, for anyone who wants to buy a copy of "The Most Dangerous Superstition" to send to someone in the military, or someone thinking of joining.)
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