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Importance of remembering all who have suffered from war, not only soldiers

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NOTE: The below blog entry is reprinted from my 2014 Memorial Day blog entry:

Every year from 1973 to 1981, except for the one rain cancellation, I donned my public school band uniform, grabbed my trumpet, and headed to my native Fairfield, Connecticut’s downtown to march and play in the Memorial Day parade, along with many other bands and performers. I enjoyed participating, particularly with my high school band, which played some great songs and had some great musicians, with particularly excellent drum riffs.

A year later, and later than it should have been, in 1982 I started uncovering more and more layers of the onion about the atrocities that are committed in all wars, by all sides and militaries of all nations, not at all limited to My Lai.

In the past years on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, I re-posted prior blog entries (here and here) calling for a realistic assessment of soldiers, the military, and the military-government-industrial complex, because I do not accept glorifying people merely for sacrificing their lives on the battlefield, and particularly when considering all the millions of lives and tons of blood spilled in the world’s wars, on top of the trillions of dollars poured into militaries and heavy diversion of government resources to the military and constant erosion and violation of civil liberties in the name of national security. Every person and every government and military campaign must be viewed as a whole; failure to do that brings a huge gap between our goals and ideals for our government and military, and what they actually do.

I am not a total pacifist. For instance, I would not have wanted to see Hitler run roughshod over Europe and over human rights without a strong American military to fight that. Then again, would Hitler ever have risen to power had there been no World War I and such a crushing defeat of Germany in that war, followed by a struggling aftermath? The military is overgrown. The U.S. government too often yields to firing up the electorate and a wild west mentality to settle conflicts by force and threat of force, rather than to better hone and rely on the art of diplomacy.

Today, I remember not only the American military members who have died in war, but also remember all who have fought and been harmed — and continue to fight and be harmed — in all the world’s wars, including civilians. I remember also those who have fought and continue to fight for peace, including but not limited to Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, and my teacher Jun Yasuda. I also remember those who have been and continue to be victimized by government security and police forces throughout time. I also remember the soldiers who have refused inhumane orders and who have stood up against their fellow soldiers who commit atrocities.

Thich Nhat Hanh deals with those who have committed atrocities as follows: He once met an American Vietnam veteran who admitted having booby-trapped a sandwich that a child ate, causing the child to writhe in pain (and die, if I recall correctly). With his amazing height of compassion, Thich Nhat Hanh responded that the veteran now had a chance to help children in need who were still living. Let us all reach such levels of compassion to all, including soldiers to those they are considering harming.

The United States has two federal holidays devoted to soldiers — Memorial Day and Veterans Day — and none devoted to peace, unless one considers Martin Luther King Day partially as a peace holiday when considering his insistence on non-violent activism and his strong opposition to the Vietnam war. Gone might be the days when boys, like I, grew up with G.I. Joe’s green plastic soldiers (on top of, for me, our family’s many visits to my father’s West Point alma mater that had not one drop of blood on the ground) to start socializing them as future soldiers or else as supporters of the U.S. military or else as silent, complacent or docile on the topic. Replacing that is a very sophisticated American military propaganda machine, and strict limits on what reporters can cover and access from war zones and wartime, after the highly unfettered access of journalists to the Vietnam War that helped hasten that big muddy’s de-escalation and ultimate end. Also serving America’s military propaganda is that the majority of American soldiers and a huge chunk of the general population were not even born before the Vietnam War ended.

Our globe needs healing, not merely by increased absence of war, but by true peace and caring about and humanizing one another. The bullets, bombs, napalm, and land mines that tear apart humans and humankind will not bring about that healing.