How I Choose to Commemorate Memorial Day

Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day and it was originally established to commemorate the soldiers who died on both sides of the Civil War. Now it commemorates all soldiers who die in any war or military action the United States conducts or in which it participates. 

War is tragic and a lot of good men and women die in war because politicians in Washington take liberties with their bodies to advance the interests of the ruling class.

This is not to say there are no just wars. Those who died on the Union side in the Civil War died for a just cause. Their cause was betrayed in the end; blacks did not achieve equality for a very long time and the working class never unified in a way that advanced the struggle for socialism. But their cause was noble. On the other side, Confederate troops died for a truly despicable cause: to preserve the system of chattel slavery. I recognize that many Confederate soldiers were young and stupid and didn’t grasp the deeper issues. They thought they looked sharp in uniform. But that doesn’t make their deaths noble. And their battle flag is an insult to all those who love liberty.

World War II was a just war because, of all capitalist formations, fascism is the most destructive to humanity. And, unlike the Civil War, the defeat of fascism allowed for the expansion of socialism which, while not perfect (nothing ever is) and continually harassed and retarded by the capitalist west, advanced the living conditions for hundreds of millions of human beings around the world.

But the other wars? WWI, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan—these were and are capitalist and imperialist wars and every death in these wars represents a wasted life. 

This is why on Memorial Day (as well as Veteran’s Day) I call on young men and women to resist joining the military unless there is an existential crisis or a great injustice: let’s deprive the imperialist state bodies to carry out its global project of capitalist domination.

For me, Memorial Day is a high-profile day to remind people that soldiers who die in unjust wars do not die for our freedom. No person who died in Vietnam or Iraq died for my freedom. They died to advance the interests of the capitalist class. And the sooner we all recognize the true purpose of war the sooner we can stop glorifying it and sacrificing our brothers and sisters to it. 

I know my Memorial Day message offends many, but there is no greater wrong  (albeit there are many equal to it) than sending men and women to die in unjust wars. I would therefore be morally derelict in not making that point of view known.

This is how I choose to commemorate Memorial Day.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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