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Saturday, May 28, 2011

On Memorial Day: What ARE We Fighting For?

When I was a young man I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murrays green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in nineteen fifteen my country said Son
It's time to stop rambling 'cause there's work to be done
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war

- Eric Bogle, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

[For more information on why I chose this song, see the note at the end of this post]

Monday is Memorial Day, where we are supposed to remember and commemorate the sacrifices our troops made for us, supposedly in the name of protecting our values. But did they really do that? Let's look at each war and conflict we have fought.

Revolutionary War (1775-1783): Easily the most justifiable war we have fought. We were oppressed by King George, taxed without representation, yadda yadda yadda. I'm not even going to go too much into this one, especially since it predates our country (since it formed said country).

War of 1812 (1812-1815): Our first war since independence, and one which did not have to turn out the way it did. Britain introduced trade restrictions in 1807, to prevent America from trading with France, which whom Britain was at war. They also criticized Britain for sinking neutral trade ships. Ultimately, this was just a proxy war to settle the Revolutionary War once and for all. Britain had been longing for war again ever since surrendering, and they got it. But we didn't need to give it to them.

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we sailed away from the quay
And amidst all the tears and the shouts and the cheers
We sailed off to Gallipoli

 Mexican-American War (1846-1848): At this time, America was still practicing isolationism, heeding the request of George Washington. But it also practiced Manifest Destiny and claimed that they should be superior from sea to shining sea. Funny then, how we criticized Hitler for essentially employing "Manifest Destiny" throughout Europe during World War II. But I'll get to that later. Anyway, we "annexed" Texas from Mexico, then when they wouldn't concede all of it, President James K. Polk worried of a Mexican invasion and declared war. This would never have happened if we didn't need to run the Western Hemisphere. A prime example of our false isolationism. But it would get worse.

How well I remember that terrible day
How the blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk he was ready, he primed himself well
He chased us with bullets, he rained us with shells
And in five minutes flat he'd blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia

American Civil War (1861-1865): Obviously, slavery was wrong. Now, I am a free market supporter, but by the very definition of a free market, a business contract is relevant if and only if all parties enter into it voluntarily. While this isn't generally taken to include the good being sold, generally the good isn't human. Even the most free-market libertarians will agree that slavery is wrong. But, this was NOT just a war about slavery. It was a war about whether the states had a right to secede. The southern states argued that secession was a right protected to the states under, among other things, the Tenth Amendment. I tend to agree with that assertion. From the South's perspective, this may have been a proxy war over slavery, an  issue where they were clearly wrong. From the North's perspective, this was a war over whether states had the right to secede by popular sovereignty, an issue where they were also most probably wrong. Hence, each side was right in a way, but NOT the way they claimed they were right. So it's hard to determine who to side with here, but most wars are like that.

But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again Now those that were left, well we tried to survive
In a mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
But around me the corpses piled higher

Spanish-American War (1898): Yet another early example of bad American intervention in a conflict that was none of their business. Cuba declared Independence from Spain and immediately began fighting a War of Independence. Then, the USS Maine blew up and sank and we blamed it on the Spanish. To this day, there is no evidence to suggest it was anything more than a standard, accidental explosion. But we used it as grounds to start an unnecessary war in a conflict that was not our problem to begin with. This role of international policeman would continue to this day.

Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit
And when I woke up in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
Never knew there were worse things than dying

World War I (1917-1918): This conflict was not our problem. Originally we preached isolationism, as we rightfully should have. But Germany sent the Zimmerman Telegram to Mexico proposing that the two go to war with the United States, and we viewed this as an act of aggression and declared war. But this was just used as the spark for us to go to war. There were better ways to take care of the problem than getting involved in a World War. Unfortunately, war on just Germany was not feasible, but we could have waited to see if it would happen, especially since Mexico concluded it was neither desirable nor feasible and thus it never would have happened anyway.

For no more I'll go waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs two legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

World War II: Obviously, the Nazis were bad. Obviously, the Japanese were bad. There is no denying that. But had we lost the war, it could very well have been us being tried for war crimes instead of the Nazis. We imprisoned thousands of Japanese in "interment camps" to prevent them from threatening our security. This was viewed as acceptable, while Hitler's "concentration camps" for Jews was not. In other words, it's only acceptable when our own government does it. That doesn't seem fair. Not to mention how we killed millions of innocent Japanese in the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and scarred millions more for life, quite literally in some cases. So we weren't exactly good guys either, despite what some might say.

So they collected the cripples, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where my legs used to be
And thank Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
Then turned all their faces away

Korean War (1950-1953): Ultimately this was a proxy war on Communism. The Soviet-run North Korea invaded the capitalist South Korea on June 25, 1950. America decided to take action fearing the Domino Effect, and that communism would spread. It was NOT our problem. Yet another example of us playing global policeman. But the worst was yet to come...

And now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams of past glory
And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question

Vietnam War (1959-1975): This war was touted as "protecting our freedoms". In reality, however, it was protecting capitalism, NOT freedom. Ngo Dinh Diem ruled South Vietnam. He was a harsh dictator, but he was capitalist. Ho Chi Minh ruled North Vietnam. He was a democratic leader, freely elected, but was communist. The South wanted to hold free elections to decide whether to join the North. Diem didn't want to, because he knew he would lose power. America chose to intervene, siding with the harsh dictator who DENIED citizens their freedoms, yet claimed it was "protecting" freedom. This seems contradictory. If we REALLY were keen on protecting freedom, we would have sided with Ho Chi Minh and ALLOWED the free and open elections to occur, without fearing the outcome. But we were so hung up on stopping communism that we didn't care about whether we were truly protecting freedom. And let's face it: we weren't.

And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men answer to the call
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all

War on Terror (2001-present): This War has included conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Libya, among others. Yet the only real success we've had is killing bin Laden. One man. Almost a decade. Yet over 900,000 others have been killed, between American soldiers and innocent Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis who committed no crime other than being born in the wrong country. Is it really worth it? We supposedly have a good relationship with Pakistan. Why not just cooperate with them and arrest bin Laden, like Ron Paul suggested he would do? And not to mention the massive invasions of our privacy through the (un)PATRIOT Act. It's really out of hand. And we can't continue this way. Pretty much all of our wars have been unjust. So on this Memorial Day weekend, I must question what we truly are fighting for.

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
And their ghosts may be heard as you march by the Billabong
Who'll come-a-waltzing Matilda with me?

Now, a note on why I chose this song to refrain throughout this blog post. "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" is a classic Australian anti-war anthem. First, some background information it might help to know: "Waltzing Matilda" is a classic Australian folk song. Some of the lyrics in Bogle's later song are based on it, most notably the last verse, which is almost identical to the chorus of "Waltzing Matilda", with only a few adaptations to fit the effect. The chorus in Bogle's song, with the band playing "Waltzing Matilda" is meant to represent the blind patriotism that he felt many Australians showed. This is the reason I chose this song.

Many Americans are blindly patriotic as well. If you ask someone who was alive in the 1960s which Vietnam was the democracy, they'll probably tell you it was South Vietnam. My mom was alive during Vietnam and a few weeks ago, when I was discussing it with her, she was shocked to learn that the SOUTH was the dictatorship and the NORTH was the democracy. She'd always assumed that "protecting our freedoms" meant protecting democracy. But this was not the case in the Vietnam War. Not at all. Yet many Americans continue to support our military through any conflict. And come Monday, we will be hearing all sorts of stories about how we should support our military and remember the sacrifices they made fighting for our freedoms. But I say we should be giving more of a thought to what exactly those freedoms are. We have seen a lot of contradictions throughout our nation's history, and the fact is, "our freedoms" is a vague term which does not necessarily refer to any one ideal and at times has led to millions of innocent deaths and violations of basic human and moral principles. So this Memorial Day, before you praise our troops for the brave sacrifices they made fighting for our country, think: what are they fighting for?

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