Our New Iraq-Afghanistan War National Holiday

Memorial Day is nice, I suppose. Veterans Day is all right. Patriots Day can be fun. Yellow Ribbon Day’s not bad. But you will be pleased to hear that on Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously voted, in pure bipartisan harmony, to add the following gem to the big war-funding, war-expanding, bill that now goes to the Senate:

“The President shall designate a day entitled a National Day of Honor to celebrate members of the Armed Forces who are returning from deployment in support of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other combat areas.”

Catchy, ain’t it? I can’t wait to find out what day the President will so designate. I do hope it’s my birthday, but I’m not trying to be greedy — I know you all just had the same thought. While, oddly, not a single newspaper took notice, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (Dem., Texas) proposed this historic bit of legislation on the floor of the House on Thursday thusly:

“Today I rise with an amendment supported by my colleague and a member of the Armed Services Committee, Mr. [Hank] Johnson, to ask support for an amendment that can bring all of us together, the designation of a national day of honor to celebrate the members of the Armed Services who will be returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan and other combat areas. This national day of honor would recognize the enormous sacrifice and invaluable service that those phenomenal men and women have undertaken to protect our freedom and share the gift of democracy in other parts of the world.

“How many of us have stopped to say ‘thank you’ to a soldier walking alone in an airport, maybe having made a travel of millions of miles, thousands upon thousands of miles, to find himself or herself in their rural hamlet or urban center coming home. They have come home over the years, and they have come home not seeking glory or appreciation. That’s our men and women. The men and women of the United States military and intelligence community who helped bring Osama bin Laden didn’t ask for applause and appreciation.

“My amendment will give all Americans, no matter what your political views, religion, ethnicity, gender or background, the chance to be able to say ‘thank you.’ It is reminiscent of times that some of us did not live through. I am reminded of the pictures that I saw of those celebrating in the streets during World War II.”

Now, technically, the members of the armed “services” (and the roughly equal number of mercenaries and contractors who apparently will not be honored or celebrated), while enduring outrageous hardship and exhibiting courage and determination, have not actually protected anyone’s freedom or actually shared with anyone the gift of democracy. The point, however, is to be reminiscent of a time when those claims were less ludicrous. And while no one actually helped “bring” Osama bin Laden anywhere, as the armed “services” were assigned to put bullets in his head and did so, the point is to celebrate his murder without focusing on what it was. And while the armed “services” and the president and the television spokesgenerals went out of their way, and all the way to lower Manhattan, to ask for applause and appreciation, the idea is to give them a bit more, darn it.

“My uncle served in World War II. My grandmother sent her sons to war. She watched them one by one, and proudly so. As an immigrant American, she was glad to be able to send them to fight our battles. Now, as we make our decisions to bring our troops home, to be able to provide them the opportunity of economic enhancement such as jobs and education, let’s have a day where all of us will be able to be in the streets, if you will, to simply say ‘thank you;’ and job well done!”

While World War II killed more human beings than any other event in history, it has done far more damage in the 65 years since then, by serving as a justification for more killing. Got an unpopular war that a strong majority has come to see as misguided and declares never should have happened? Not a problem! Just pretend it’s World War II and celebrate accordingly. That this is unlikely to work terribly well is demonstrated by the total lack of interest in the passage of this amendment on Thursday. Of course, there were more important stories to cover in the news, and the most important ones were nearly ignored as well. While Congresswoman Jackson Lee speaks as if the troops are coming home, the House actually passed, with her vote, a mammoth bill to fund the continuation of the wars, and rejected numerous amendments that would have made it more likely some troops might come home. In addition, the House voted down an amendment that would have stripped from the bill language empowering current and future presidents to make war almost anywhere at any time, regardless of Congress or the Constitution.

“We are in the midst of ongoing conflict and warfare. We must show continued support of our troops and increase their moral. What better way to demonstrate our support than by celebrating their return from deployment with a National Day of Honor. Though we may be divided by our positions on the war in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat areas, we stand together to support our veterans. Currently, there are close to 100,000 troops serving in Afghanistan. And even in the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden, troops remain in Afghanistan to protect against retaliatory attacks and to help rebuild the country.

Do they, now? No bases, no weapons positioning, no gas pipeline, no profiteering, no protecting of corrupt war lords, no destruction of the country? On the contrary, this is a humanitarian mission to “rebuild” and “protect.” But protect whom? Is al Qaeda expected to retaliate against the people of Afghanistan or against the foreign occupying army? We leave the members of our military there tempting retaliation in order to protect against retaliation, as we celebrate the childish murder against which retaliation was entirely predictable — retaliation that has already caused the deaths of some of those we’re honoring and celebrating. The language says we are to celebrate those returning; it doesn’t say they have to be alive at the time.

“As of April 2011, close to 46,000 American troops are serving in Iraq. At the height of the Iraqi dispute, close to 170,000 U.S. troops were stationed in Iraq. These courageous men and women are mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, yet they have risked their lives and left their families to fight for what they believe in which is freedom, equality, and all the like principles that America stands on. The courage and sacrifice of the men and women are certainly well deserving of celebration. Their service is an extraordinary act of patriotism for which we should all be thankful.”

This is demonstrably false. Polls of U.S. military members in Iraq over the years have shown them to be persuaded they are there to exact revenge for a crime Iraq had no part in, or bewildered as to what they are doing there, resentful of having been sent there, and in favor of ending that war. Many have gone AWOL or refused the illegal order to participate in an illegal war. How about a holiday for that bravery? How about a holiday for peacemakers — as distinct from peace prize laureates — who help avoid wars? Members of the U.S. military do not need holidays that most of this country will laugh at. They need to be kept out of imperial adventures. They need to be brought home. They need job training, education, healthcare, childcare, pensions, a sustainable environment, and a democracy in Washington, D.C., none of which we can have while pretending that it is our patriotic duty to pretend the military is in Afghanistan on a humanitarian mission.

Word to the wise: you can care about the people put through the horrors of our wars, including the 95% who are not Americans (how about a holiday for them?), and including the members of the U.S. military, and the mercenaries, and the contractors, and the warmongering presidents and senators and congress members, and the weapons profiteers, all without ceasing to denounce what they are doing. The best way to honor veterans is to stop creating more of them. And the only way to do that is to call a halt to this celebratory scam. I’m not going to “say thank you” to a participant in an illegal war. I’m going to say “I’m sorry we gave you no education or job options and allowed our government to put you through that hell. What can I do to help?”

“In the words of President John F. Kennedy, ‘As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.’ It is not simply enough to sing the praises of our nation’s great veterans; I firmly believe that we must demonstrate by our actions how proud we are of our American heroes.”

Kennedy wrote but didn’t dare speak aloud, this: “War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.” Why do we keep trying to make that distant day more distant?

“We promise to leave no soldier or veteran behind.”

Oh? Will you provide them with jobs, housing, healthcare, apologies, explanations, truth about what you’ve done to them? I didn’t think so. Jackson Lee showed big photos of military members in action in our wars, none of veterans living on our streets. Her holiday is about celebrating war, not about caring for the people we imposed war on. A separate amendment introduced by Jackson Lee toothlessly expressed the sense of Congress that access to treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder should be expanded. I’d prefer Congress actually expand that treatment and, more importantly, reduce the incidence of the trauma.

The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Buck McKeon (Rep., Calif.), author of the language granting presidents war-making power, was quick to agree with Jackson-Lee:

“I thank the gentlelady for doing this. I think she is exactly right on. I think everything that we can do to honor these warriors who are out there fighting for our freedoms and freedoms of those around the world we should do.”

Congressman Adam Smith (Dem., Wash.) agreed:

“I am just in awe of how great our military is . . . and what a tremendous job they have done for us.”

Chairman McKeon emphasized that not only was celebrating troops a way to celebrate war, but passing this amendment was grounds for passing the underlying bill to fund more warmaking:

“We have a good bill, this National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. It is a very good bill. We have a lot of good things in it; but this amendment, this amendment alone is reason to vote for the bill.”

The amendment passed on a voice vote, but Jackson Lee insisted on a roll call, upon which it passed unanimously.

The same bill proposes April 9th be made Yellow Ribbon Day, honors in various ways the veterans of a wide variety of past wars, defunds the U.S. Institute of Peace (thus saving the cost of 5 hours in Afghanistan), and requires that all suspected foreign terrorists who are not killed be tried, if they are tried, by the military and not in courts. This is, I repeat, the same bill that formally gives presidents virtually unlimited power to make war. This may be the worst bill ever deemed likely to pass into law. A holiday for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars somehow just doesn’t make up for that in my mind. I’d rather party like it was 1999, before the current madness really kicked in. I hope we all still have jobs from which to get time off for Jackson Lee’s holiday.

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