MSNBC talking head Chris Hayes has been forced to apologise for his astute comment on Sunday, May 27, 2012, that he was “uncomfortable” by the blanket worshipping of all fallen soldiers, sailors, marines, airpersons as ‘heroes.” Well some might be but his effort to separate himself from the patriotic excesses of Memorial Day led to the usual counterattack by the virulently militant, military-veterans organisations. Ten years ago the Wall Street Journal in two editorials called for my suspension and abrogation of academic freedom for referring to military tactics, in an email to Cadet Robert Kurpiel of the Air Force Academy, as “baby-killing tactics of collateral damage.” I was the object of an international active and veteran military network of shame to silence my criticism of war and the monstrous, genocidal nature of American external relations.
While about 13% of the population are vets, the power of veterans to stoke the flames of war and silence dissent against war is potent. Memorial Day is nothing more than the adulation of war. It is a repulsive holiday because it uncritically looks at the campaigns that military folks fought without reflection on the horrors and inevitable war crimes that accompany such barbarism. It glorifies war in a cunning manner by elevating the deaths of the fallen regardless of circumstance or lack of just-war applicability to mythic hagiography.
Howard Zinn, my former advisor and professor, wrote for several years op-ed columns for the Boston Globe. After writing a dissenting critique of Memorial Day, he was never invited again to submit a column. He wrote in 1974: “Memorial Day will be celebrated in other words, by the usual betrayal of the dead, by the hypocritical patriotism of the politicians and contractors preparing for more wars, more graves to receive more flowers on future Memorial Days. The memory of the dead deserves a different dedication. To peace, to defiance of governments.”
When I was suspended and reprimanded by Richard Yanikoski in 2002 on Veterans Day, another insensate holiday that promotes war and sacrifice on behalf of a power elite, I made it a point that evening to discard a small, plastic American flag that was placed outside of a unit on my way home. I felt that my sense of humanity had been restored and my sense of self had not been eviscerated by a vigilante cybermob dedicated to conformity and the uncritical reverence of those who study how to kill other human beings at one of our full-ride, tax-payer burdened military academies. The removal of that flag on the way home from such a horrid display of oppression was my determination then and forever more not to be silenced or marginalised in the name of patriotic correctness.
Let me be clear: Chris Hayes was merely attempting to challenge the conventional thinking that military service, particularly among those who tragically die, is always honourable even during an unjust war and on behalf of criminal elements that sent them to war. Hayes apologised. Dr Zinn lost his op-ed gig. I was suspended despite being a tenured full-professor of history but as you can see not silenced.