Memorial Day 2023

     For many years, I was reflexively patriotic in the naïve sense. I would immediately jump down the collar of anyone who chose to denigrate these United States or its military involvements. I had my reasons, of course; don’t we all? But many of them don’t look so good to me these days.

     Today is an occasion for a related reflection. Millions of men, and a smaller number of women, have gone to war at the direction of the United States federal government. The overwhelming majority of them believed in the cause for which they fought. A great many of them died while rendering that service.

     Memorial Day, and Veterans’ Day on November 11, are when we formally acknowledge their service and sacrifices. It is entirely appropriate that we do so. But it’s also an appropriate time to reflect on the motivations and decisions of the men who sent them to war.

     What is the purpose of war? One of the best known and best loved pro-military novels ever written set out the general rationale in a single sentence:

     The purpose of war is to support your government’s decisions by force.

     It cannot be made clearer than that. But though the statement is clear and impossible to refute, it compels the honest man to ask other questions. The most troubling of them goes to the motivations of the men who send our servicemen forth to fight, bleed, and die.


     The U.S. has gone to war many times. Despite the relative youth of our nation, we’ve been at war a whole lot. Some of the motivations behind those wars have been whitewashed out of the histories. In a couple of other cases, they’ve come to light more promptly, to the embarrassment of the decision makers. The servicemen dispatched to do battle and the citizenry exhorted to support the war effort have seldom been told candidly about the full range of those motivations.

     The War of 1812 was animated in part by a desire to extend the northern and western boundaries of the U.S. The Mexican-American War was fought for that reason among others. The Civil War was fought in part over slavery, but also over import tariffs that heavily favored the industrialized Northern states at the expense of the agrarian South. There are many conflicting theses over what got us into the Spanish-American War, though it appears that one significant driver was the “yellow journalism” of the Hearst newspapers. We entered World War I over a telegram. We entered World War II for reasons so murky and complex that arguments rage over them even today. As for Korea, Vietnam, and our more recent wars, my Gentle Readers are invited to do their own research.

     But in each case our servicemen were told that they were “defending freedom.”

     I shan’t defend the governments of the nations against whom our forces fought. They were as dubiously motivated as ours. The point is that the decisions made to dispatch armed forces were not wholly animated (if at all) by the defense of freedom, or of the United States, or of the American national interest however conceived. From this vantage point – and it may be no more accurate than that of an Andaman Islands savage – it seems that those considerations were seldom dominant.

     Nevertheless, our servicemen went forth. Many never returned home. It is right and fitting that we honor them, but it would be wrong to believe that the causes for which they were sent to do battle were necessarily what they – and we – have been told.


     Many years ago, I wrote in a novel:

     “We have talked,” he said, “about all the strategies known to man for dealing with an armed enemy. We have talked about every aspect of deadly conflict. Every moment of every discussion we’ve had to date has been backlit by the consciousness of objectives and costs: attaining the one and constraining the other. And one of the first things we talked about was the importance of insuring that you don’t overpay for what you seek.”
     She kept silent and listened.
     “What if you can’t, Christine? What if your objective can’t be bought at an acceptable price?”
     She pressed her lips together, then said, “You abandon it.”
     He smirked. “It’s hard even to say it, I know. But reality is sometimes insensitive to a general’s desires. On those occasions, you must learn how to walk away. And that, my dear, is an art form of its own.”
     He straightened up. “Combat occurs within an envelope of conditions. A general doesn’t control all those conditions. If he did, he’d never have to fight. Sometimes, those conditions are so stiff that he’s compelled to fight whether he thinks it wise, or not.”
     “What conditions can do that to you?”
     His mouth quirked. “Yes, what conditions indeed?”
     Oops. Here we go again. “Weather could do it.”
     “By cutting off your lines of retreat in the face of an invasion.”
     “Good. Another.”
     “Economics. Once the economy of your country’s been militarized, it runs at a net loss, so you might be forced to fight from an inferior position because you’re running out of resources.”
     “Excellent. One more.”
     She thought hard. “Superior generalship on the other side?”
     He clucked in disapproval. “Does the opponent ever want you to fight?”
     “No, sorry. Let me think.”
     He waited.
     Conditions. Conditions you can’t control. Conditions that…control you.
     “Politics. The political leadership won’t accept retreat or surrender until you’ve been so badly mangled that it’s obvious even to an idiot.”
     The man Louis Redmond had named the greatest warrior in history began to shudder. It took him some time to quell.
     “It’s the general’s worst nightmare,” he whispered. “Kings used to lead their own armies. They used to lead the cavalry’s charge. For a king to send an army to war and remain behind to warm his throne was simply not done. Those that tried it lost their thrones, and some lost their heads — to their own people. It was a useful check on political and military rashness.
     “It hasn’t been that way for a long time. Today armies go into the field exclusively at the orders of politicians who remain at home. And politicians are bred to believe that reality is entirely plastic to their wills.”

     Servicemen from the lowliest private to the highest-ranking general are in thrall to the politicians who send them forth. They don’t get to question their orders. They certainly don’t get to say, “Sorry, dude. Not my circus, not my monkeys. I’m staying home.” Those that resist their orders are not well treated nor well remembered.


     My point here is not Smedley Butler’s blanket condemnation “war is a racket.” Some wars must be fought, whether or not they succeed:

     We love peace, but not peace at any price. There is a peace more destructive of the manhood of living man, than war is destructive of his body. Chains are worse than bayonets. – Douglas Jerrold

     And of course, there is no dishonor involved in going forth at your commanders’ decree. You signed up; you trained; you awaited the call. When it comes, you must go. To go is the fulfillment of the oath you took. It’s the only honorable thing to do.

     But that does not sanctify the decisions of the men who send you forth.

     Honor the soldier, but be ever ready to call the politician to account.


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    • pc-not on May 30, 2023 at 7:07 AM

    Kudos to you for addressing the elephant in the room.  All of my life I have considered myself an American Patriot ranked in the higher percentile.  I am a Vietnam era vet.  As well as being a student of history and a genealogist, I thought I understood the nature of war and why we sent troops into harm’s way.

    My dad, a WWII vet had several opinions about war.  One of them was, “we win the wars, politicians lose the peace.”  He was not too keen on the growing military industrial complex which Ike warned about.   That being said, my patriotism has surely evolved.  In my youth, I was easily caught up in all of the hoopla and propaganda from our side about signing up to “preserve freedom”, blah, blah, blah.

    To be truthful, I honor and respect our fallen as much as anyone.  I lost friends on the battlefield and many others due to long term effects of war.  However, it makes me cringe to hear the mantra, “they died defending our freedom.”   It makes us feel good to think that, but it is a far cry from the truth.  Think deeply about it.  Did killing all of those civilians in Iraq and Syria really help keep us free?   What about Ukraine?  Do the billions we send there help anyone but the corrupt politicians and arms makers?

    I hope readers here will still honor our fallen,  but think about what led up to their sacrifice.

    • Evil Franklin on May 30, 2023 at 9:33 AM

    Until the “kings” are forced to lead the charge, literally, war will be too easy to start.

    Evil Franklin

    • OneGuy on May 30, 2023 at 9:56 AM

    “Did killing all of those civilians in Iraq and Syria really help keep us free?”


    It is not that simple.  I too was not in favor of the Iraq war.  But once a war starts people die, period.  To point out that some civilian(s) die means nothing.  Civilians die in the most justified wars and in trivial wars.  Civilians are often put into harms way by the enemy exactly to elicit the opinion you expressed because it weakens their opponents.

    What helps keep us free is a strong defense capability.   What destroys our strong defense capability is a lot of nitpickers attacking our military.

    Iraq was on a track to build a nuke and attack Israel.  I admit I don’t know what the right solution to that problem was.  Maybe we should have just waited until they did it to make sure everyone was on board to stop it.  But that approach does seem counter productive even though it would have appeased most who opposed the war to prevent that act.  A “preventive” war is much harder to justify than a defensive/reactive war is.  I believe THAT is exactly why Roosevelt allowed the Pearl Harbor attack in spite of intelligence information in advance.


    • Ownerus on May 30, 2023 at 11:40 AM

    Fifty years ago I was a proud United States Marine. I had enlisted to help defend my country against communism. Today my country is less free. The enemy was already, and remains, inside the wire.

    • Original Grandpa on May 30, 2023 at 8:16 PM

    Ownerus, we are brothers… I too, enlisted in our beloved Corps to protect our country and the world from the evil of communism – and it’s here now… thanks to the rats inside the wire. It was while in country that I saw things I cannot unsee, and learned things I cannot unlearn. We did protect… Alcoa and Reynolds, so we could get the strategic metal (bauxite) out of the country, so we could have things made from aluminum. “these nabobs… how I hate them.” Someday soon, “they” may well regret what we learned well, during our time in service…

    • George Mckay on June 1, 2023 at 7:09 AM

    I truly weep for all of our soldiers lost in the line of duty.  They gave so much for people who truly did not give a damn about them.  This is evidenced by the lackluster help the VA gives our soldiers.  Our Vets should be properly cared for and made as whole as possible without fail.

    Unfortunately, this has not happened in many years.  When we see thousands of soldiers killed in wars of nation building morons in DC it leads us to believe that their sacrifice was not only unappreciated but, wasted.  After all is Iraq a better place?   Is Afghanistan a better place?  Is Vietnam a better place?  The answer (if we are being honest) is no on all counts.

    As Francis has stated, the pols are the problem – ALL OF THEM.  The war mongers (Lindsey Graham et al) do us no service and the peaceniks also have not accomplished anything peaceful.  The crux of this issue is ducats, lucre……money.  Those who want it will get it any way they can.  War machines, ammo, electronics all cost money and that comes from you and I.  Our taxes have paid for all of these wars and rumors of war since our beginning.  I say rumors of war because I believe that most of our “wars” have only been moneymaking actions put forth by warmongers paid (directly or indirectly) to push these evil actions.

    I am neither a warmonger OR a peacenik.  I am a Patriot who flies his flag proudly, I vote in every election and pay my taxes faithfully.  I try my best to follow the law (going over the speed limit occasionally) and I serve on a Government Board and do volunteer work.  Why do we have to stick our big fat nose into other peoples business?  Nation building is not our f-in job!  How do we get out of this mess?

    Francis has stated previously that just voting will get us nowhere – the fix is in.  I concur.  Is our Republic salvagable?  I am not as sure as I was previous to the budget vote.  Getting a firm grip on spending and slashing the warmongers best weapon – our money is vital.  Lindsey Graham is pissed this new bill does not allow for enough defense excess.  Hell, the Pentagon cannot account for BILLIONS of our dollars so just sending more dough accomplishes nothing.

    I apologize for the length of my diatribe.  This stuff is kinda like having to take a dump and not being able to get to the toilet.  You just gotta go!   I suppose the entire crux of our problem is MONEY pure and simple.  Those who have it want to keep it and make sure you don’t get any of it and those who don’t scheme to get it.  We are all guilty of it – all of us.


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