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Introducing Dissidents Day — A Holiday Dedicated to the Anti-War Veterans The American Empire Pretends Don’t Exist.
Memorial Day is only half the story.
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Thank you! - Joe
Yesterday was Memorial Day, the annual celebration of American veterans. Flags were flown, songs were sung, and dogs were grilled in honor of Americans past and present who risked their lives in service to the United States of America.
But not all veterans were honored.
Anyone who has seen the pre-game rituals of a major sporting event can tell you that veterans have long been used as a shield to stop critiques of the American Empire. Memorial Day is a culmination of this tactic. It’s an entire day dedicated to the promotion of American veterans, strengthening the notion that the American military equals “The Troops,” and therefore anyone who criticizes the former hates the latter. It’s a logic as flimsy as it is nasty, no different than claiming those who criticize Jeff Bezos hate Amazon delivery drivers.
The true purpose of over-the-top celebrations of the military is made abundantly clear by examining which veterans are honored on Memorial Day. Parades are filled with the smiling-and-waving types, the ones who are eager to share their war stories. But these veterans only provide half the story. Excluded from the parades, celebrations, and NFL honors are the service members who are openly critical of the American Empire. As they are less convenient to the Imperial project, these men and women are seldom handed the national microphone.
To remedy this, I’m declaring today, May 30th, 2023, to be the first annual Dissidents Day, a holiday dedicated to the existence and promotion of Veterans that the U.S. Empire wants us to forget.
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Though anti-war veterans are as old as America itself, it wasn’t until World War I that American soldiers voiced concerted opposition. Throughout the war, thousands of conscripts were imprisoned, tortured, and, in some cases, shot, for refusing to fight. In 1932, over 17,000 World War I veterans brought their families to Washington D.C. to protest their lack of service payment. Dubbed “The Bonus Army,” the group of over 43,000 men, women, and children made a camp outside the White House. When they refused to leave, the forces of General Douglas MacArthur raided the camp, burning hovels and driving families off at bayonet point. Casualties numbered close to 60, including a baby killed by the poison gas deployed against the veterans.
A year later, Marine General Smedley Butler came to be a household name for his role in the attempted military coup of President Roosevelt, known as the Business Plot. Butler, who had led Marines into the Philippines, Haiti, China, Mexico, France, and elsewhere, was approached by a cabal of capitalists to lead a Fascist overthrow of the President. Butler refused and went public, spoiling the plot. Later in life, he became a great critic of the American military, calling his decades of military service nothing but acting as “a gangster for Capitalism.” Butler’s book, War is a Racket, is in the public domain and very worth your time. Or, check out Jonathan Katz’s Gangsters of Capitalism for a complete story of the role Smedley Butler and the Marines played in building the American Empire.
Veteran’s anti-war sentiment was most prevalent during the Vietnam War when the draft targeted poor and minority Americans. The group Vietnam Veterans Against War peaked at around 25,000 members, including future Presidential hopeful John Kerry. Despite their prominence, the group was routinely slandered and attacked by pro-War press and politicians.
In the War on Terror years, dissent against the interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lybia, and elsewhere was slandered as attempts to “help the terrorists.” Opposition from the men and women who served was no different.
In 2013, Tomas Young, an Iraq War veteran who enlisted two days after 9/11, published an open letter to George Bush and Dick Cheney as he was succumbing to wounds sustained in battle. Despite Young’s letter going viral, he was ignored by the military establishment. Young was never honored at a football game, nor was he invited to the White House. Much like the other millions who had their lives ruined by the Iraq War, Young was left to wither and die, unacknowledged by those who caused his suffering. He passed in 2014.
On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences. - Tomas Young, A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From a Dying Veteran
Even more egregious than ignoring veterans critical of the American Empire is the co-option of anti-war soldiers into useful images for the continuation of the imperial project. In May of 2002, Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman left the NFL and enlisted in the US Army. Immediately he was elevated to the status of national hero, an icon of the self-sacrifice politicians encouraged from typical Americans, but seldom undertook themselves.
Though Tillman refused to do media interviews during his enlistment, his private correspondence made clear how he truly felt about the war in Iraq. He told his friends and family that he thought the war was “fucking illegal” and had even been in contact with anti-war writer Noam Chomsky. After participating in the invasion of Iraq, Tillman was sent to Afghanistan. Just a few weeks later, he was killed by friendly fire. Military investigators immediately knew Tillman had been shot by his own troops, but chose to lie, claiming he’d died at the hands of the enemy. The Army quickly swept the incident under the rug, even going so far as to lie to Tillman’s family. Within days of his death, Tillman’s personal effects — including his anti-war journal — were destroyed.
Even to this day, Tillman remains a useful puppet for the American Empire. He is routinely honored as a “good soldier” by both the NFL and American Army, despite his true beliefs that the post-9/11 invasions were immoral and illegal. For the military establishment to ignore anti-war critics like Young is despicable. To co-opt a dead man for the continuation of the Empire is inhuman.
A few months ago, I wrote about what makes something propaganda. Often misunderstood as “government lies,” propaganda is actually much more nuanced. It isn’t simply when a government or group says something false, but rather the selective telling of facts intended to shape narratives. Through this lens, we can see how Memorial Day, as well as other attempts to use “The Troops” to shield the American Empire, constitutes propaganda. Whenever the U.S. military contracts with the NFL for a pre-kickoff flyover, or the President honors a soldier with the Medal of Honor, they are specifically choosing to show one side of American Veterans. The other side, the former service members who are open about the devastation American militarism imposes on both veterans and its victims, is kept quiet, swept under the cultural rug by politicians and their corporate allies.
Today, and on future Dissidents Days to come, we honor these soldiers for their bravery: not just in battle, but in their confrontation of the American Empire.
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