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Dulce Et Decorum Est…

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on May 28, 2018

“If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”

 ― Wilfred Owen


As we observe yet another Memorial Day, it is at this time of year that thoughts turn to those who have served, those lost, those gone. At a time when the NFL make rules to enforce compulsory public worship of militarism (let's not call it patriotism, shall we?), the better to stifle the protest of domestic oppression, it is well to remember a time when grace and magnanimity softened hearts. Today marks the 150th anniversary of Memorial Day's official nationwide observance. The annual commemoration was born in the former Confederate States in 1866 and adopted by the United States in 1868.

Although not widely known today, the early evolution of the Memorial Day holiday grew from a Southern expression of magnanimity. An article by Richard Gardiner, The Forgotten History of Memorial Day,  traces the holiday's beginnings. 

During 1866, the first year of this annual observance in the South, a feature of the holiday emerged that made awareness, admiration and eventually imitation of it spread quickly to the North. During the inaugural Memorial Day observances which were conceived in Columbus, Georgia, many Southern participants – especially women – decorated graves of Confederate soldiers as well as, unexpectedly, those of their former enemies who fought for the Union. 

Shortly after those first Memorial Day observances all across the South, newspaper coverage in the North was highly favorable to the ex-Confederates. 

“The action of the ladies on this occasion, in burying whatever animosities or ill-feeling may have been engendered in the late war towards those who fought against them, is worthy of all praise and commendation,” wrote one paper

On May 9, 1866, the Cleveland Daily Leader lauded the Southern women during their first Memorial Day. 

“The act was as beautiful as it was unselfish, and will be appreciated in the North.”

Newspapers spread word of the magnanimous deeds of the southern women on "Decoration Day,", and it was memorialized in a popular poem, "The Blue and the Grey," often learned and recited by schoolchildren. With the ritual repeated on both sides of thre Mason-Dixon line, the holiday became a part of binding the wounds of a fratricidal war. It was a visible manifestation of Lincoln’s hope for reconciliation between North and South.

Somehow, the revulsion to war was lost as late nineteenth America grew in commercial and economic power. By the time a marine named Smedley Butler appeared in the US military, American was already flexing its muscles for entry as a player on the world stage.

Those not familiar with the career of Butler have missed a fascinating chapter of US history.

Smedley Darlington Butler was at the time of his death, the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. He was a welter of contradictions: a Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps, an outspoken critic of U.S. military adventurism; a high school dropout who became a major general, a Quaker and devout family man who was among the toughest of Marines; an aristocrat who championed the common man; a leader who thought of himself as striving to help the oppressed of the countries he occupied as commander of an imperial fighting force. During a 34-year career he participated in actions in the Philippines, China, Central America, the Caribbean, and France in World War I. He twice won the Congressional Medal of Honor, as well as numerous other U.S. and foreign medals. Our age has not seen the like of this larger-than-life soldier, but ours is not an age that produces heroes as readily as louts.

After he retired, Butler became a well-known and outspoken critic of the US military-industrial complex. His most well known work is his 1935 book "War is a Racket", in which he described war as a money making enterprise.

In "War is a Racket" he described and criticized the foreign actions and wars of the United States including his own, as so much gangsterism, not sparing American corporations and the politicians who enable them.

Butler's words have resonated through our day, when the interstices used by the interlocking nexus of international banks, construction companies, corrupt politicians and "foreign policy professionals" have combine to inflict a new, less straightforward version of colonialism on smaller, weaker countries or those (e.g. Greece) inclined to go their own way. Many of his memorable phrases are still quoted today, as they remain eternally true.

"War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small 'inside' group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes."

Near the end, Butler has some modest proposals for making war unprofitable, thus less likely.

It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war. The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labour before the nation's manhood can be conscripted.

One can imagine bow unpopular this prescription was to the war profiteers. 

In an interesting codicil to an outstanding career, Butler was recruited to be a member of what came to be knows as the Business Plot. He later told a congressional committee that a group of wealthy industrialists were planning a military coup to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Butler would be selected to lead a veterans march to become dictator, along the lines of other Fascist regimes emerging in Europe. The conspirators had picked the wrong man. All involved denied the existence of a plot and the media ridiculed the allegations. But a final report by a special House of Representatives Committee confirmed some of Butler's testimony. The incident was forgetten. 

The techniques Butler describes are updated decades later by John Perkins, who wrote Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, published in 2004. In it Perkins describes his role as to convince leaders of underdeveloped countries to accept substantial development loans for large construction and engineering projects that would primarily benefit the richest families and local elites, rather than the poor. And the projects would be contracted to U.S. construction companies. Such loans would give the U.S. additional leverage for access to estract the host country's natural resources at favorable rates. Indeed, the business of America is business.

Just another reason Why People Hate Us. A nation immune to history has no recollection of its own history of intervention and interference. Saddam Hussein and Khaddafi were undoubtedly bad actors, and many believe that regime change was rightly forced upon those countries. But via the CIA, America has been busily replacing democracies with dictatorships in countries all over the world for more than 30 years. The justification was often to counter Soviet influence, but in many cases there was little or no evidence.

So why would the rest of the wrld hate us? Simply because Americans act like we are the center of the universe, we have to win everything all the time, we eat everything, Nukes, your country's natural resources are our birthright, and so is your energy– only 5 percent of the world’s population, we consume 26 percent of the world’s energy. We meddle all over the world, the scream to high heaven when other countries meddle back, we export trash materialistic culture, and we act unilaterally whenever and wherever we want, because American Exceptionalism. 

Now as Twitler advances a foreign policy of brinksmanship, there is talk in some quarters of reinstating the draft, since the time may come when the prospect of being the first to rush into the breach to die for the Trump corporate brand may be insufficiently motivating for enlistments.

Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

 


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere, and was active in the Occupy movement. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary and  will have failed if not prominently featured on an enemies list compiled by the current administration.

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