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Memorial Day Revisited

May 30, 2010

Memorial Day is a national holiday commemorating U.S. men and women who have died in military service. It was first established after the Civil War, a war in which the vast majority of people who died, soldiers and civilians, were in fact American citizens.

But things have changed. Since the holiday has mainly morphed into a day of cookouts, the opening of summer cottages, and the end of a long weekend at the beach, it seems to time to think about meaningful alternatives to Memorial Day. Let’s reject the narrow official focus. We can change our thinking about whom we should honor as having fallen because of U.S. military policies.

We could choose to honor the Afghan and Iraqi citizens who have been killed since our war of occupation of those countries were begun by war criminal George W. Bush. In Iraq, the estimated number is 96,381 for a minimum number and some sources have the number over 1 million dead Iraqis since the US invasion of 2003. In Afghanistan, tracking from 2001 with the first U.S. air strike, the estimate of civilian deaths is approximately 12,000 to date, and will be rocketing higher soon because of our re-strengthened invasion of that country under the Obama Administration.

Another memorial we could choose for this holiday is the reflection on the number of civilians killed because of interference of the U.S. government via covert military operations, waged by the CIA and other forces in Europe, South America, Asia, and other locations. Let’s take the example of Guatemala. The CIA-engineered military coup in 1954 destabilized the country and over the following four decades led to the deaths of as many as 250,000 civilians.

In another case, the CIA’s operation–likely sanctioned by President Eisenhower himself–to bring the Shah of Iran back to power resulted in U.S. control of Iranian oil at the cost of thousands of civilian arrests and torture or death for those who tried to prevent the takeover of their country. (For details of US interventions since World War II see Bill Blum’s book Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since WWII and Zoltan Grossman’s “A Century of US Interventions.”)

Another population of people victimized by aggressive U.S. policies are immigrants who have been killed in their attempts to enter the United States or who have died because of the denial of basic rights—such as water or food—after being arrested. Deaths from Border Patrol use of force, killings by vigilante groups, and killings by coyotes (immigrant smugglers profiting from repressive U.S. immigration policies) are all on the rise along the border with Mexico.

In the two-year period of 1988 to 1990 alone, the Mexican government accused the U.S. of 117 cases of human rights abuses that led to severe injuries or deaths of people attempting to cross the border. In 2006, in just one example, a Border Patrol officer killed a 20-year-old Mexican named Guillermo Rodriguez because the unarmed Rodriguez was attempting to defend himself by throwing rocks. Groups such as No More Deaths are attempting to build consciousness over the toll of this militarized action on our southern border.

Or, we could take this day to remember the very beginnings of American imperialism: when colonists and later the U.S. government sought to annilhate the Indian nations who possessed the land that they wished to occupy. In his book American Holocaust, historian David Stannard estimates the total number of American Indian deaths at 100,000,000. This includes both those killed during military engagements and those who died from European-imported diseases brought to North America by settlers.

This Memorial Day, let’s think about those who have sacrificed everything in wars waged by the United States. But there are far more of the fallen than our country calls attention to on this national holiday… millions of victims who the U.S. would like us to forget.

One Comment leave one →
  1. debra Wierenga permalink
    June 1, 2010 1:56 pm

    Thank you for this moving and important reminder.

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