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In this century, Memorial Day, a civic holiday, has gained an almost religious tinge. That last Monday in May is meant, of course, to honor the dead of this country’s wars and has a history that goes back to the period after the Civil War when, thanks to the bloodshed of that conflict, America’s first national cemeteries were created. A century and a half later, the president regularly goes to Arlington National Cemetery and places a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Donald Trump did so, maskless in the midst of a pandemic nightmare, in 2020 and Joe Biden did so in 2021, the day after the anniversary of his son Beau’s death. (Beau served a year as a National Guardsman in war-torn Iraq.)
Addressing “our fallen heroes” and their families, who “live forever in our hearts — forever proud, forever honorable, forever American,” President Biden hailed the American war dead as “the sentinels of liberty, defenders of the downtrodden, liberators of nations.” He then added, “And still today, Americans stand watch around the world, often at their great personal peril… They did not only die at Gettysburg or in Flanders Field or on the beaches of Normandy, but in the mountains of Afghanistan, the deserts of Iraq in the last 20 years.” Later, he offered another quite explicit list of where those “fallen heroes” actually fell: “The Americans of Lexington and Concord, of New Orleans, Gettysburg, the Argonne, Iwo Jima and Normandy, Korea and Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.”
But when you think about it, the all-American conflicts that followed World War II’s D-Day (Normandy) haven’t exactly been the tales of liberty, heroism, and glory that Biden hailed. Instead, they’ve been interventions from hell that, Vietnam aside, the American people largely neither supported nor protested, but paid remarkably little attention to.
Almost all of them were, in one fashion or another, failed wars that left startling numbers of innocent civilians dead, squandered trillions of taxpayer dollars needed at home, unsettled significant parts of the planet, and in this century helped spread terror outfits across the Greater Middle East and Africa. In short, they were wars that, in terms of democracy, liberty, and justice, were horrors of the first order and nothing faintly to be proud of.
Today, TomDispatch regular, historian, and war correspondent Nick Turse, author of a riveting account of one of those American wars from hell, Kill Anything That Moves, considers a subject we don’t often think about — the way such wars and other conflicts around the world are now producing what he all too accurately calls “war porn” in our overly electronic moment. As I read his piece, I couldn’t help thinking that, given a Pentagon budget that never goes anything but up and wars that never go anything but down, Memorial Day (like those endless flyovers of sports events by the U.S. Air Force) has, in my lifetime, become a kind of war porn all its own. Tom