Memorial Day, 2012

Memorial Day.

What does it mean to you?

It was suppose to be a day of solemn remembrance of all those who died serving our country in times of war. Our flags are at half-staff until noon, and then raised fully in remembrance. We honour the dead, and the living. May those who died never have died in vain, we cry! We strive to be thoughtful of their memories, their sacrifices, to be worthy of them.

For me, it's a day of sadness. This Monday, amidst the barbeques, the "first day at the beach" excursions, the parades, the flowers, the little American flags for the kids, the shopping, the sales, the mindless consumerism that Americans do so well. This Monday I won't take part in those things; I will take time and thank the spirits of the people who died while serving in the Armed Forces. I will remember that their energy is no long among the living, and any spark that they had, that connected them to us is extinguished.

I will be thankful that they were willing to make that sacrifice. I am always thankful for those who died so that I could be here. I strive to always remember.

And I will be angry that people are still being called upon to die. There is no reason for war today. None! Anyone who dies in Afghanistan and Iraq were sacrifices on the altar of Dick Cheney's ego, not to protect and preserve the Union.

I am a pacifist. I don't believe that was is good. It's bad, very very bad! As I have learned more in my spiritual journey, I have become more pacifist. Pagans are just like anyone else; some are anti-war protesters, some are service-members; some think war is OK in some circumstances, and some like me think it's probably not moral in just about any of them [I believe the last so-called just war that the US was involved in was WWII. The rest have been immoral, illegal and bordering on evil.]

I will go on the record as some one who would have chosen conscientious objector status in WWI and II. I would have chosen to enter the ambulance corps, worked in the medical field, been a medic. I would not have been able to take up a gun. I don't have it in me.

I know this, because I was in the Army once, a long time, a life time, ago. I was in the Signal Corps-- that's the section of the Army that deals with communications, how soldiers are able to talk to each other. Everything from the flag-waving to Morse code to satellite radio. I worked on the mobile telephone switches-- which are exactly what they sound like: little boxes on trucks that are attacked to an antennae array that acts like a telephone hub. I was a telephone operator, who used encryption. It was pretty cool.

It's a pretty important job, yes; it was very interesting, too. A challenging job, something that my inner tinkerer loved so much. But I learned more than how to run my switch.

I learned how to kill.

I was taught how to shoot by my Dad. We shot bull's-eye targets. In the military, you shoot human silhouette targets. You learn to shoot for "centre mass", or that part of your chest where everything important is behind the ribs; you learn to shoot those targets to see "the enemy" as a target. You learn to stop seeing humans as humans-- but as the Other. You celebrate groupings that are small, tight, can be covered by a quarter or half-dollar.

I learned to place five shots in the space of a quarter. I was one of the few who could get them that tight. It was simple, really. I'm a very good shot.

That didn't set very well with me; it I could pretend it was a bull's-eye, I was fine. But the hand-to-hand we learned was harder on me.

It's something like wrestling, which can be fun; it's something like gladiator fighting, with knives/bayonets, which is deadly. And it's all pretty horrible, if you think about the ramifications of it. You're learning, practising, getting comfortable with the idea of beating another human to death with your assault rifle, your fists, your feet (clad in heavy soled boots); then you're getting comfortable with stabbing them with a bayonet that's attached to your rifle. That bayonet can go right through a person's skull; stop their hearts, rip out their throats. Kill them.

And yet we learned to do this, to shut off our inner selves, and kill.

I read Warhammer 40K novels, and love them; one of the things the Space Marines often say to each other is a call and response that I am intimatly familiar with: "Kill for the Living!" followed by "And Kill for the Dead!" Every time I read it, I can hear the instructors shouting it at us. I can hear the other part, the part I've never read in a novel, the part that I know by heart, the part that makes my throat hurt, remembering, the raw, red feeling you get from shouting:

"What makes the grass grow?!"
"Blood! Blood makes the grass grow!"
"Who do we fight for? Who do we kill for?"
"We Kill for the Living! We Kill for the Dead!"

I couldn't do it. I can't do it. I was hurt, badly and got out of the service. Luckily my legs aren't permanently broken, but my knees will never be right again. That's a small sacrifice I say, small when compared to what I could have lost. There were times I thought I was losing myself, my soul to that mind-crushing assimilation that is military life. I know that it would have killed me to remain, literally.

Yet, there are some who gave so much more. They lost their peace of mind, their ability to sleep, to dream. They lost their mental space, that freedom in our own heads to be ourselves, unfettered. They gave limbs, eyes, hands and feet. Some gave up their lives. Some sent sons and daughters. Some sent husbands and wives. Some went and never came home. Some are buried in France, Belgium and here in the US. Some have no graves that are marked, but are some where in the jungles of the South Pacific and Asia.

All are mourned.

This Memorial Day will be yet another one we celebrate while at war. Another year goes by and we have service members still in Afghanistan. Some have gone five times! Some came home broken, physically and mentally; some come home in-flag draped coffins.

The war in Afghanistan may have begun for a good reason. I shouldn't say. I'm biased against war. I can say that since last year when the SEAL time assassinated Osama bin Laden there has been absolutely no reason for the US to have soldiers in that country. Pulling out some time in the next two years is not good enough. We should have had everyone home, in hospital, getting counselling, getting support, back to work, being with their families. That should have been done 13 months ago.

I have not been shy in telling Senator John McCain that he's full of shit, that the military needs to come home. I have been completely honest with him, and with his colleague Jon Kyl, who I have the dishonour of calling my senators. I have been forceful, loud and repetitive. My Representative in the House, Raul Grijalva is an amazing guy, I like him. He's also receptive to bringing them home-- unlike the warmongering Senators I have.

Bring them home! over and over and over.

Let us remember the happiness of bringing home the living.
Let us mourn the dead.
Don't let us have to mourn more death, more maiming, more harm. Afghanistan is not a so-called just war. It's like a 21st Century version of the Vietnam conflict: bloody, deadly, meaningless, too long and too wrong.

This isn't something we should have to remember on memorial Day. We should be able to wave our flags, remember our Great-Grandpas and Great-Grandmas and what they did in WWI and II. We should be able to watch our Grandpas salute the flag, Korean service medals shining on their chests. We should be begging the forgiveness of our Vietnam Veterans and enfolding our Iraq and Afghanistan Vets in our arms, "Home at last. No more fighting. No more."

*I joined the Army because I wanted to serve. I should have gone into the Peace Corps, but I listened to my mother when she encouraged me to go in and use the money for college. I wanted to stand with my ancestors, my family, stand on that line of green and white and tan and blue: protecting the Constitution and every citizen of the US. I literally just wanted to help. That's what I wanted to do. I'm still an idealist. A cynical one, but an idealist never the less. Some things you never grow out of-- some things you shouldn't grow out of. 

I also don't want to sound like I'm some perfect anti-war activist. I'm not a very good pacifist: I'd fight back if someone hit me, or to protect my family; I like shooting games, love zombie-anything, and do eat fowl. I do believe there is a huge difference in shooting a digital gun at pixels formed into zombies and killing an actual person. Maybe I'm wrong there, I don't know. I just wanted to be sure and make the record as clean as possible.


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