Instead of celebrating Veterans Day on Monday, we should abolish it. We do not need another opportunity to celebrate the American war machine and its bloody history of aggression and empire.
War is a tragedy, not a cause for celebration. When will Americans understand that war never creates, it only destroys? It is hell. It is the health of the State. It inevitably destroys both the lives of the defeated and the conscience of the victor nation. Though sometimes we must fight, every war is a human tragedy of epic proportions.
Perhaps on Veteran’s Day we should ponder the recent words of Pope Francis concerning America’s recent bellicosity towards Syria:
Look upon your brother’s sorrow –I think of the children, look upon these- look upon your brother’s sorrow, and do not add to it, stay your hand, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this not by conflict but by encounter! May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: ‘No more one against the other, no more, never! . . . war never again, never again war!’
Of course, we ought to treat veterans with the respect due to every human person. In the Gospel, Jesus treated the Centurion with charity and even acknowledged that he was a good and righteous person, despite the fact that the man served an imperial army occupying the Holy City. Like Jesus we should harbor no rancor towards individual veterans. The State is the enemy, not them.
However, treating the veterans with respect and charity does not mean that we must commemorate them with a holiday. The veterans’ “achievements” are logically inseparable from the wars they fought in.
Some suggest that even if we disagree with the justice of particular wars, we ought to honor the sacrifices made by “our boys” in those conflicts. This is morally obtuse. Since when do we honor well-meaning people who serve ignoble causes? Certainly, many of the employees of Planned Parenthood genuinely think they are serving women. Do their intentions absolve them of the genocide they have wrought?
Furthermore, it is laughable to congratulate soldiers who were drafted into the military. Were the slaves who built plantations owed congratulations for their architectural achievements? Of course not; they deserved emancipation. The draft was -and is- slavery. Let’s call on the government to apologize for usurping the lives, labor, and blood of draftees. We should establish a holiday honoring draft dodgers and those who participated in draft riots.
Again, this does not mean we should disrespect veterans. We should have mercy on them. They are casualties in the tragedy of unjust war.
If we must celebrate America’s martial history, let’s only take pride in just wars (i.e. defensive wars); perhaps the American Revolution and the War of 1812.
Let’s not celebrate the violent annexations of the West Florida Republic and Hawaii; the plundering of Mexican territory; the Cain-and-Able bloodshed of the Civil War; the exploitation of the Philippines; the forcible “opening” of Japan for “free trade,” leading to the events of World War II; the destruction of the German economy, leading to World War II; the holocaust of draftees in the Korean and Vietnam wars; the lives and treasure lost in Iraq for no apparent gain. Celebrating the veterans who fought in unjust wars is morally inseparable from approving of those wars.
In 1915, as World War blazed across the globe, Booker T. Washington framed the issue in stark terms:
So important and necessary to the happiness of races and of nations is . . . superiority that in order to maintain it they are willing to sacrifice their own best blood and all the property which they have accumulated with so much pains and so much effort, and at the same time they are eager to destroy their neighbor’s property and to kill and maim as many of their young men as is necessary to win.
Washington also wrote:
A very large part of the actual progress of the world in the past has been made by the farmer and mechanic, those who reap and those who build, rather than by the soldier with his implements of destruction. Thrift, industry, and patience are still the staples of human progress, and the peculiarity about them is this, that, while they may belong separately to individuals or races, they are counted as part of the common capital because while they make no man’s life poorer they make the whole world richer.
Perhaps instead of celebrating the veterans, those cogs in the State’s engine of violence, America should create a holiday honoring those who actually contributed to the building of American civilization. A day to celebrate people like Thomas Edison, Francis Xavier Cabrini, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Booker T. Washington, Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, John Courtney Murray, Fulton Sheen, Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos. People such as these enriched American both materially and morally for the benefit of the county and the world. They are the real American heroes. They deserve the honor and attention we pay to the veterans of America’s unholy wars.
Topic for discussion: can we celebrate Veterans Day without celebrating unjust wars? Which of America’s wars were just and which were unjust? Feel free to comment. We can talk about these issues without making war.