Can You Support the Troops, But Not the War? Memorial Day’s Shitty Deal
Chris Hayes, the goofy-looking MSNBC host, set off a little storm of controversy Sunday. I’ve never really liked Hayes, and I don’t know why. We might have had it out in a past life. Maybe we’ll make amends this time around. Anyway, he gave a presentation on the history of Memorial Day (which is worth watching), and then he kicked off his discussion panel with his now infamous words:
“I feel uncomfortable about the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war,” Hayes said.He added that “there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers,” but that “it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic.”
Hayes got pummeled on Twitter. Veterans said he was disrespectful. He was unfair. I’m sure somebody called him un-American. In reality, Hayes was making a really difficult, but very necessary point.
I’m reminded of a few statements and ideas I’ve heard (or formulated myself) over the years. One has to do with something Charles Manson said. I’m paraphrasing, “The US soldiers come back from Vietnam, and they get booed and everybody hates them. What kind of shitty fucking deal is that after going to war for your country?”
A shitty deal, indeed. But my second thought on Hayes’ controversial remarks is that he’s right, and on many levels. Except he knows he can’t talk about what he’s attempting to talk about. Maybe our soldiers are heroes, because they’ve taken the risk of injury, psychological trauma, and death to fight for our country. So yes, as a nation we call them heroes, and we slap their backs (the ones that make it home, at least).
Yet, the problem with that is when your country’s leaders send their military forces anywhere in the world, at any time, and call it justified. So another phrase sticks in my mind, and this is from a real down-and-out right winger (so far to the right, he comes back around again on the left).
He said to me (I’m paraphrasing): “People always get real angry when I tell them I don’t support the war or the troops.” We stood in a busy retail store that I happened to be working at when this happened. He talked loud, and other customers didn’t appreciate his words, but he didn’t care. He hated everybody. But his message was good. He continued, “But look at these motherfucking liberals saying, ‘Oh, I don’t support this war, but I do support the troops.’ I look at them and say, ‘Who the fuck do you think the war is?'”
He was right. Or is right. Depending on if he’s still alive or not (I don’t know). Without troops, there is no war. Yet we’re stuck, because we want to support those who go over there on our behalf. But to Iraq? To Afghanistan? Where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been murdered? How do we celebrate the heroes, but denounce, in general, their actions and reasons for being there?
How do we reconcile those facts and ideals and thoughts, and still honor the sacrifices many veterans truly have made? We don’t want to give them a shitty deal when they get home. But at the same time, our leaders and war profiteers know exactly the psychology behind it, and they use it. They parade dead troops around. They make up fabulous tales to keep us weeping and cheering: Jessica Lynch. Pat Tillman.
‘Don’t you dare criticize the troops’, is the sentiment behind not fully getting to the heart of the problem of unnecessary, scandalous, for-profit war. If our troops said No, and the American people said, No, maybe we could end it. But as long as we have to support the war, in order to fully support the troops, we’ll be hogtied and held over the fire, too afraid to save ourselves from the slow, agonizing death of a nation, roasted and toasted into oblivion by perpetual war and fear mongering.
So, good for Chris Hayes. It’s too bad he apologized. I don’t think he was unfair to our veterans. He was very careful. So careful, in fact, that he stumbled and stuttered over his words a few times. He knew the treacherous rhetorical ground he was covering. But it has to be said. The more we worship and celebrate war heroes, the more justification we give to invading sovereign nations and killing gross numbers of human beings.
That celebration takes us down the wrong path. Even further from saying what has to be said. No more war. It’s a sham. That minimizes the sacrifices our troops have made in Iraq and Afghanistan, but why continue to make more? Why get more innocent people in those lands killed because we’re too prideful to call it out? Stop the wars. We were lied to. Everybody knows it, but we can’t continue to be blackmailed into supporting the war hawks and profiteers and Wall Street by having to honor war through the umbrella honoring of our soldiers.
And yes, I have friends who are soldiers. My family has fought overseas. That doesn’t change the immorality of war and invasion. Especially when it’s Iraq and Afghanistan. The first country had nothing to do with 9/11. And Afghanistan’s citizens also didn’t have anything to do with it. Yet, we’ve destroyed so many of them. Many of them children who weren’t even born when 9/11 happened. Talk about a shitty fucking deal.