Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tearing Down the Wall

Caption: US Border fence at Brownsville (Courtesy Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

The immigration debate is everywhere. Not just in the United States, where it is focused, but worldwide as well. All eyes are on the country, especially now, with Barak Obama as President, to see if it will remain true to its liberal past of freedom and justice for all, to its immigrant history, to its long struggle to impose respect for universal civil and human rights, to its sense of humanitarianism, to the blood with which it drenched its own soil in order to abolish the enslavement of one race by another and to so many other shining examples of its vocation for often hard-fought, but eventually effective self-criticism and for simply doing the right thing, which, surprisingly enough, is also often the most expedient thing as well.

Quite frankly, after eight long and grueling years in which the administration of George Bush (The Lesser) systematically violated, suspended, ignored and banned rights and principles that had always been considered basic to US-style democracy and decency, a lot of people elsewhere aren’t expecting much of us Americans anymore. Worse still, some Americans even had time during the Bush years to get used to the US thumbing its nose at “corny notions” like multilateral decisions on world security, due process, rule of law and respect for human rights, and started almost finding it ‘cool’ for their leaders to talk like Dirty Harry about such things – about smokin’ out the evildoers and killin’ ‘em – which, in their eyes makes Barak Obama “a wimp”.

But hopefully, the current administration – in spite of a jittery economy, a radically hostile opposition, two wars that are looking more and more like an even longer and more pernicious nightmare than Vietnam, the worst oil disaster in the history of the world and a churlishly impatient public that apparently expected President Obama to soar in like Superman and, with a wave of his hand, fix everything that was not just broken, but utterly demolished, overnight – will find the time and energy to go out of its way toward restoring the battered image of the United States as the intellectual as well as material leader of the Free World.

Like it or not, and whatever your personal stance may be, the immigration debate forms part of this context. It has for some time now, but it recently has been shoved to the forefront as a result of the unilateral decision of Arizona to impose its own rules which – despite all of the skewed logic with which the public is being bombarded by far-right commentators – are tantamount to racial profiling.

Clearly, at this moment in its history, the United States has an immigration problem. And it is, for the most part – though not entirely – an Hispanic problem. Let me hasten to say that what I mean by this is that the main problem is in how the United States will deal with the influx of immigrants from that ‘ethnic’ group (whatever that means, since they hail from highly varied backgrounds), and not that the problem is theirs. The problem is, strictly speaking, a US problem.

An Immigrant Nation

The United States is an immigrant country. While the majority of the US population is made up of whites, it cannot really be said that there is anything like a “typical American”. Unless, of course, you are only speaking of those who have descended from the 53 people who survived out of the 102 passengers who left England in 1620 aboard the Mayflower, bound for Virginia, drifted off course and ended up settling in Massachusetts. If not, then the vast majority of Americans are of immigrant stock and, technically, the first settlers were immigrants as well. The fact is that the only authentically “typical Americans” form less than one percent of the population and are not white, but ‘red’. All the rest of us are the descendants of “intruders” – though I am proud to say that some genuine native blood does flow in my veins, thanks to my great-grandfather, Job Cavinder, who was half American Indian.

Caption: My great-grandfather, Job Cavinder, was half Indian. My Great-Aunt Ruth (standing behind Job) demonstrated clear Native American facial features. Seated with Job is my great-grandmother, Mary Landis, and behind her, my Great-Aunt Edith.

But now, this is where our insistence on placing everybody in neat little pigeonholes gets messy and confusing. My wife, Virginia, for instance, is an Argentine national. She was born in South America and speaks Spanish as her first language. Back in the days when we lived in the United States and she needed a visa, she was pigeonholed by the Federal government as “race: Latino”. (Back then, the Federal government didn’t care about the gender concerns of the Spanish language, so for them, there was no such thing as Latino/Latina: immigrants from “south of the border” were Latino Male and Latino Female). In point of fact, however, Virginia is not latina, or at least not in the American sense of the word, which refers to peoples of Hispanic origin. Both of her grandfathers – Mel and Carlucci - emigrated from their native Italy to Buenos Aires, one from Salerno, the other from near Milan. One of her grandmothers was also of Italian descent – Scoltore – her father having emigrated as a boy to Argentina. Hey! Does that mean Robert De Niro is Latino too? Granted, one of my wife’s grandmothers was of Basque descent. So, yes, that part of her family did indeed come from what in the Roman Empire was referred to as Hispania. “See there! See there!” the racial profilers might shout with glee. “That’s ‘Latino’ blood, then…or Hispanic…or whatever.”

Right, so what am I, then? Somewhere way back, part of my family (the Newlands) came over from Scotland, another part from Germany (the Webers and the Leningers), still another part from Ireland (the Cavinders). My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Henry and the other side of her family were the Hamiltons. So, English, then? But wait: The name Henry, if you check back, is Norman and the Normans were originally Norsemen (Vikings), who settled in France. So, French, then? But then there’s that other part, the British Isles part, what about that? Well, let’s simplify: The British Isles were originally settled by Germanic tribes (Anglo Saxons). And then there’s that other part of my family that’s German and the Norsemen were the originators of the Germanic tribes, Teutonic peoples all. So, okay, if we’re going to racially profile, then I’m Teutonic, right? I mean if I were just now moving to the USA and they wanted to figure out which pigeonhole to place me in, “race: Teutonic”, wouldn’t it be? But wait just a darn minute, now. I get to the States and who do I find there, since…um, forever? My Native American great-grandfather’s maternal family. So what the heck am I doing immigrating, since ‘we Indians’ once owned the place. But then, that racially profiles me too, doesn’t it? Yes, definitely, unquestionably, Teutonic-Celtic-Native American…I think.

We’re All Africa

My point here is that there is no such race as “Latino”. Race is all about skin color – and implicitly profiles people anyway, since there is no race but the human race, with the rest being a matter of complexion and environmental adaptation. Trace us back far enough and, if noted paleontologist Richard Leaky is right, we all started out black, on the plains of Africa. As Shakira puts it, we’re all Africa (waka-waka). This thing of classifying people from ‘south of the border’ as “race: Latino” is just the Federal government’s ‘secret’ code for, “This person speaks Spanish and comes from ‘someplace down there’. Nor should it be an issue in the decision to grant or not grant a visa, since just by placing a race-heading on a visa application, the government is implicitly discriminating by bringing a piece of data into the mix that will permit those making the final decision to decide on the basis of skin color/‘ethnicity’. We are all, then, mixed-race, in a sense…well, except for (if Leaky is right) the purest of African tribes.

The population of Argentina as a whole is a good case in point. Argentina, like the United States, is an immigrant nation, a melting-pot, if you will. Just as in the States the most common ethnic combination is Scots-Irish, English and Germanic, in Argentina, the majority of the population is made up of people of Italian and Spanish origin. Another large segment of the population is made up of people of criollo descent (the mix of Spanish and Amer-Indian bloods). These last are people who would immediately be profiled as “Latinos” because of their dark hair, eyes and complexion, if they were to try to move to the United States. The others would have to speak before their “race” could be determined.

Since Argentina’s history with its natives is much like that of the United States – the Indians were, as in North America, systematically removed, driven out, pushed westward, pursued and slaughtered in order to take their land away and give it to white European settlers – there is only a small pure American Indian population. Most of these people would probably also immediately be considered ‘Latinos’ by US Immigration (and curious police officers in the state of Arizona), since they are dark, speak Spanish and come from “south of the border”. But Argentina also has an eclectic mix of other ethnicities: The country’s quintessential literary figure, Jorge Luis Borges, once quipped: “The Mexicans descended from the Aztecs, the Peruvians from the Incas and the Argentines from boats.” I have known Anglo-Argentines, German-Argentines, Czech-Argentines, Irish-Argentines, Scottish-Argentines, Welsh-Argentines, African-Argentines, Rumanian-Argentines, French-Argentines, Basque-Argentines, Slovenian-Argentines, Austrian-Argentines, Armenian-Argentines, Syrian-Argentines, Lebanese-Argentines, Russian-Argentines, Greek-Argentines, Turkish-Argentines, Japanese-Argentines, Chinese-Argentines, Korean-Argentines, and so on. I am willing to bet that most of these would be profiled as “race: Latino” because of their nationality and language were they to try to immigrate to the United States – with the exception of the “Orientals” (many of whose families have lived for generations in Argentina) since, despite speaking Spanish and having Latin American passports they don’t “look Latino”.

People who are “tough on immigration” but who don’t want to give the impression of being racist will argue that the problem isn’t immigration as such, but the ‘illegals’. (That they are talking about Hispanics is a given). But at the center of mainstream calls for ever-tougher immigration measures in the United States is a fear not just of undocumented immigrants of Hispanic descent or from so-called ‘Hispanic countries’, but also of the exponential expansion of the Latino community in the United States. This segment of the US population has increased more than four-fold since 1970 and is up 22% since the start of the 21st century. Predictions are that by 2050, nearly one in three Americans will be Hispano-American.

The fear that is motivating demands from the fundamentalist right for the deportation of all Hispanic 'illegals' (this is the height of racial profiling) and radical measures to ensure that no more get into the country has little to do with either the lax immigration policies or the shaky border security that they cite. At its core, the issue is about the mainstream white population’s fear of its eventual loss of supremacy.

Parallels with the Past

I'm old enough to have grown up in the so-called civil rights era. I was reared in a predominately (98%) white Midwestern town where there were no blacks. (I see from the latest Census that this has changed: African Americans now form 0.19% of the town’s population – or approximately 18 people out of a total of 9,474). So I can recall hearing the facile racist arguments of white supremacist fundamentalists who, upon hearing of protest marches, riots and other disturbances taking place all over the United States in the 1950s and ‘60s, as blacks sought to back demands that their civil rights be respected, would snarl, “If they don’t like it here, we can always ship ‘em back to Africa.” In many cases, this suggestion was being made about people whose presence in North America pre-dated the arrival of the Mayflower, since African slave labor was already present in the then-Spanish colony of Florida in the mid-1500s. And Dutch slavers first traded African captives to the pre-Mayflower Virginia settlers in 1607. Historically, then, these African people were more American than the European ones who signed the Mayflower Compact. They just weren’t white Americans.

Nor should we forget that during the country’s long immigration history, the push by rightwing fundamentalists to close the gates to certain types of immigrants is nothing new. Today it’s the “Hispanic problem”. Yesterday it was the “Polish problem”, the “Italian problem”, the “Irish problem”, the “Chinese problem”. And the problem has always been a two-way street: people from countries in political or economic turmoil seeking a new home and new horizons in combination with greedy economic interests only too happy to exploit the cheap, sometimes bordering on slave labor that these mass movements of desperate people could provide.

The fact is that many of those who are the staunchest opponents to Hispanic immigration today are the descendants of people who came in droves to the United States and stayed by any means they could a century and a half ago. To hear these descendants tell it today, their families were welcomed with open arms and were respected and well treated because they knew how to appreciate what America offered them and America knew how to appreciate what they had to offer. It’s a nice story, and perhaps there were some cases like that, but generally speaking it is exactly that – a story. The fact is that every new immigrant group has had to carve a place for itself in American society. Typical of mass movements of any kind, the first ones to arrive have quickly staked their claim, fenced off their territory and then tried to keep any new aliens from coming in and messing up a good thing.

The Irish (an ethnic group that today forms about 12% of the US population) are a case in point. Although Irishmen had formed part of the original colonies almost from the outset, the huge waves of Irish immigrants who arrived in the 19th century, and especially during the Great Irish Famine of the mid to late 1840s, arrived in the United States destitute and desperate. They, like many unskilled immigrants from the Hispanic community today, took the jobs that no one else wanted – hard, poorly paid jobs involving grueling manual labor. Notably, they were hired at starvation wages – beggars couldn’t be choosers – to do the grunt work in the building of much of America’s rapidly expanding infrastructure. They dug canals, laid rails, built ports and did any other task where picks, shovels, sledges and a strong back were required. They were often exploited and mistreated. During the civil war, the US government also exploited this wave of largely English-speaking immigration, drafting penniless Irishmen, with the promise of US citizenship, directly off the boat into the Army to serve as new cannon fodder in mounting massive offenses against rebel forces in the South.

As Irish workers building the railroads became more consolidated and banded together to try and form unions, they were unceremoniously cast aside for newly arriving Chinese labor that would work for even less pay. The lot of 19th-century Irish immigrants in the United States was so grim that, following the civil war, they considered the wave of recently emancipated former slaves that migrated northward to be a competitive threat and there are reports from those times of blacks being attacked by Irish-immigrant mobs who beat, clubbed and stoned them. Problematic Irish immigration was, then, also a problem of desperate foreigners fitting perfectly into the exploitative designs of greedy business interests – the same problem as today’s, but with a different ethnicity.

Can’t Have It Both Ways

There appears to be a growing tendency among far-right thinkers today to consider the plight of the undocumented Hispanics as being their problem. It is of little importance to such anti-immigration activists how long these undocumented aliens have been inside the United States. If they don’t have the proper papers, these people say, they should be thrown out at once.

Caption: The Border Fence at Tijuana (Courtesy Wikimedia Creative Commons)

This stance tends to see ‘illegals’ as lawbreakers who have whimsically and maliciously skulked across the border in flagrant contempt for sovereign US authority, so the ostensible solution is to round them up and send them packing. But to look at it this way is an oversimplification of the facts: the fact, for instance, that although it is illegal for them to be in the United States, certain American employers – traditionally in the agricultural and textile sectors but elsewhere as well – gladly hire them at starvation wages; the fact that lax policies in the past tacitly permitted undocumented workers to stay and make a home (albeit humble) for themselves in the USA despite not having a green card; the fact that precisely because they have family members who have lived legally in the States or have been born there, it ends up being, irrationally, next to impossible for them to get permanent residence visas, and so on and so forth.

Therefore, the problem isn't theirs, at least not completely, but a problem that the United States government must address in some more rational and humanitarian way. As for those who claim that cleaning up the illegal immigration problem will create a new problem for the business activities that use ‘illegals’ as cheap labor, I can only say that, first, my heart absolutely bleeds for those shameless and unscrupulous exploiters, and second, that you can't have it both ways. You can’t hire undocumented workers as dirt-cheap labor and then turn around and not want to see them on the street. Nor can you clamor for the cheap goods and services that their labor provides but then expect them not to have a life beyond the fields or the sweatshop walls. This kind of hypocritical double standard is unethical and immoral and is a mindset that should have gone out with the Civil War and, if not, then at least with the advances fought and won in the civil rights era. Because there can be no kidding ourselves: Although they may be paid, if miserably, for what they do, the exploitation of the undocumented status of ‘illegals’ makes them the modern-day slaves of industrialized white America, and it makes their bosses the supremacist slave-drivers of the 21st century.

‘Tear This Wall Down’

Caption: President John F. Kennedy and his entourage survey the Berlin Wall. "Ich bin ein Berliner," JFK declared.

As I am writing this, an image keeps popping into my head of John F. Kennedy standing before the Berlin Wall and declaring: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” I was a boy at the time, but already a thinking, conscious human being and I recall feeling a thrill of excitement and pride at this admirable statesman’s declaration of war on that wall and on the totalitarian mentality on which it was constructed.

Built by the repressive Soviet Bloc in 1961 to separate East and West Germany from one another, the Berlin Wall was the quintessential symbol of the Cold War. But it was also the symbol of the darkest kind of fundamentalism, of an archaic mindset that actually believed that an ideological line could be drawn in the sand and a material wall erected to separate one culture (political in this case) from another, that barbed wire, searchlights and machine guns could keep ideas and advancement from spreading, that harsh repression was a viable way to impose a system or that such repression was sufficient to suppress people’s natural desire for freedom, progress and a better, happier life.

I was a quarter-century older and a politically savvy newsman when an American president again stood before that wall. I was no longer an innocent and had serious issues with this leader, but I still couldn’t help but identify when Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate and challenged: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear this wall down.”

Now when I see footage of our border with Mexico, I can’t help asking myself how the same nation that fought so hard, so long and with such sound reason against the ideological more than the material symbol of the Berlin Wall can now be supporting the building of just as horrendous and futile a wall between it and one of its two closest neighbors. A political cartoon is taking shape in my mind that makes me sorry drawing is not one of my strong talents: It shows America’s “Berlin Wall” manned by armed Border Guards along the Río Grande. On the other side of the wall, standing waist deep in water are Mexican immigrants clamoring to come over. On their shoulder stand other immigrants and on their shoulders, still others. A dialog balloon coming from a guard’s mouth says, “We gotta make it taller!” Behind the guards, facing the American side of the wall, wringing their hands, their faces wrenched with fear and worry, are a crowd of white Americans led by Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. A dialog balloon coming from a frightened-looking Beck says “Gosh fellas! I sure as heck hope it holds.” And while all of their eyes are on ‘The Wall’ the tide of change continues with the birth of a million North American Hispanics a year behind their backs.

Caption: A wall of our own, and every bit as futile and odious as the Berlin Wall. (Photo by Omar Bárcena. Courtesy Creative Commons. Public Domain.)

Because this is precisely what’s happening. The point that the anti-immigration (e.g., anti-Hispanic) fundamentalists are too self-obsessed and too obtuse to understand is that building a wall between themselves and the Hispanic world is as idiotic and futile an idea as the Berlin Wall was. While they are desperately seeking to plug the leaks in the illegal immigration dike with their fingers and toes, the inexorable trend toward a changing face (a pan-American face, if you will) for North America continues unabated. There were 9 million Hispanics and North American-born Latinos living in the United States in the 1970s. Today they number over 40 million or about 14 percent of the population. And the current birth rate among the Hispanic community in the United States totals over one million babies per year. This is a trend that isn’t going away no matter how scared fundamentalist white supremacists might be of losing their grip on power.

The worst thing that could happen is that the immigration issue should drive an ever-increasing wedge between the white and Hispanic communities. Should that happen, the future scenario could only be one of increasing tension between the two. The violence, disruptions, riots and bitterness that marked the white versus black integration clashes of the 1950s and ‘60s need to be established as a lesson learned in this respect. The Obama administration has the singular opportunity to take strides toward avoiding this kind of scenario, not by bowing to pressure for a “bigger and better wall”, but by studying creative ways to develop more rational immigration legislation and to take advantage of the extraordinary potential of a multi-racial, multi-cultural America.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Memorial Day 2010 – The War We Were

CAPTION: Tombstones of the American fallen in Arlington National Cemetery. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Yesterday was Memorial Day in my native United States. The day when we honor those who died fighting in our nation’s wars.

When I was a kid, it was hard to think of it as anything but a holiday – the day after the last day of school, the day we hoped and prayed it would be warm enough for the public swimming pool to open, a day for picnics with the family or when Mom would drive out to the greenhouse to buy some flowers to set out. It was a day of parades with brass bands playing stirring patriotic marches and with middle-aged and old men dressing up like soldiers once more to join uniformed National Guardsmen and other troops in carrying the colors to the Veterans Monument at the Courthouse and then out to the cemetery in tearful remembrance of their fallen brothers.

But for us, as kids, it was just the first exciting small-town event to kick off the wonderful, lazy days of small-town summer.

The problem is that this childhood Memorial Day illusion is only that. And since it appears impossible for the United States to get through a single generation without a war, each generation has its own. And as the realities of those wars end up touching us as a generation and, indeed as individuals, no matter how hard we may try to ignore them, Memorial Day eventually takes on a new and sober meaning.

My grandparents’ generation had World War I, my parents’ generation, World War II. My parents’ younger siblings had to face the Korean War. My generation’s war was Vietnam. The current generation is embroiled in combat on two fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sixty million combatants are estimated to have taken part in the First World War. In the four years that the fighting lasted, 16 million people died and nearly 35 million suffered some form of permanent physical disability. Those figures don’t include the millions who suffered permanent mental or emotional trauma. World War II. Despite the Great War’s have supposedly been the “war to end all wars”, a quarter-century later, we found the world at war again, and this time as many people died (62 million from 55 nations) as combatants that took part in the First War. And there are no accurate figures to calculate the millions upon millions of people injured, disable or mentally traumatized in this second modern instance of wholesale worldwide butchery.

In just the two major conflicts that our current generations have lived through (…or not…), then, approximately 100 million people died. Think about it: That’s more than three times the size of the total population of Argentina or Canada. Imagine every man, woman and child in those countries slaughtered, and pile another twenty-five or thirty million mutilated cadavers on top of those. Imagine one out of every three men, women and children in the United States dead, every two mourning the tragic death of a third. That’s how many people were ground up in the gnashing cogs of just those two world conflicts, not to mention the thousands upon thousand and millions upon millions who died in other “minor” conflicts that many of us have no idea ever took place.

One such “minor conflict” was the Korean War. For many years this war was referred to, especially by the United States, as “a police action.” In the three years that this “police action” lasted, somewhere between, 1.2 and 1.5 million people were killed. (Imagine the city of Cleveland, say, or La Plata, wiped out entirely). The United States alone lost 33,686 combat troops, as well as non-combatant personnel numbering 2,830.

Then there was my generation’s war. Official figures in the Vietnam War place direct American casualties at 58,148 dead and 300,000 wounded. But this doesn’t take into account the thousands upon thousands of conscript soldiers who returned with broken hearts, broken spirits and broken minds to a life of chemical dependencies, chronic depression, severe mental illness, neurological trauma from chemical agents and other conditions that kept them from ever recovering control over their own destinies or caused them to die young from any number of unnatural causes. Just among my immediate circle of acquaintances, I can think of several who died in combat before their 21st birthdays, one who came home and hanged himself in his garage and another who came home in 1970 and to this day remains incapable of facing life without the dulling effects of severe alcohol and drug abuse (to such an extent that the last I knew of him, he no longer was getting out of bed to drink and “get high”…if you can call it that). People can say that he and all the others should have gotten over it, gotten on with their lives. But that’s like saying a person should “get over” child abuse, rape or other forms of severe victimization.

Yet, nothing compares to the ravages of war. Because, let’s not kid ourselves, in dirty wars such as these – wars like Vietnam, like Afghanistan, like Iraq, wars of attrition against a scarcely identifiable enemy, where the lines between friend and foe are patchy and guerrilla fighters work the no man’s land between uniformed combatants and civilian populations – nothing, no amount of gung-ho training, no amount of psychological readiness, no amount of discipline, can prepare these men and women for what they will see, what they will be ordered to do and what they may well do on their own as a result of the in-combat stress and trauma they suffer. Already, well over a million of today’s American soldiers have had to face this.

Nor do the cold figures that measure the effects on our own troops take into account the tidal wave of suffering left in their wake. Our South Vietnamese allies in that other conflict lost 5 times as many troops as the United States did and their number of wounded was never determined. But more tragic still is the fact that, the number of South Vietnamese dead, including the nearly quarter of a million troops killed, came to an estimated two million (men, women, children) in a country with a total population of just over 5 million. A conservative estimate of deaths among the Chinese-backed North Vietnamese in that war comes to something like 2.8 million, with two million of those also being civilians. Less conservative estimates claim deaths on both sides were more like 7 million, with another two million people being injured or mutilated.

Beyond tragic and into the realm of horrifying are the 7 million tons of explosives that the United States made use of during that war, or the chemical, biological and bacterial agents that Washington liberally rained down on the Vietnamese people in clear violation of the Geneva Convention that Washington has so often cited in criticizing the inhuman behavior of other nations. This was over 3 times the quantity of explosives used in aerial attacks on all sides during World War II.

In Iraq, despite the US military’s frequent boasting about the effectiveness of its technology and the possibility of “surgical bombing” with its joystick-operated, camera-carrying weaponry, in the last estimates I saw, somewhere between 90,000 and 105,000 civilians had died. No matter how much we want to debate the “human shield” theory, there comes a moment when somebody has to punch the button or pull the trigger that murders non-combatant men, women and children. And no matter how professional a soldier may be, only a heartless, mindless mercenary (e.g., a sociopath) could go home and sleep well after doing that. So the vast numbers of returning veterans who now require and will continue to require treatment for not only their physical but also their mental trauma should come as no surprise to anyone.

And with all of the experience that the United States has in the scars that wars leave, it should really be prepared to deal with this phenomenon. But indications are that we have learned little from the tragic experience of Vietnam. Conservative estimates indicate that beyond the tremendously high numbers of mutilated soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, the US can expect at least (and this is a conservative estimate) half a million veterans of these two latest wars to return suffering from post traumatic stress disorder before the combat ends. And there are also telling indications that not nearly enough of them are getting the help they need. In wars such as these, in which the causes are hazy and the methods questionable, no matter what one’s view of the war itself may be, the post-combat support system is clearly lacking.

The US custom of honoring its fallen on Memorial Day is a noble one. But perhaps we Americans and people everywhere should start looking at war from a different angle.

We need to honor these dead by rejecting, rather than embracing and glorifying war. If we re-read the statistics above, it becomes clear that what we should be looking into is not more effective ways of waging war, but rather, the most effective ways possible of avoiding and preventing it. Perhaps this will mean a revolution in diplomacy or witheringly preemptive multinational action. Anything to keep two sides from dignifying their conflict with false partiotic fervor.

War is not noble, no matter how noble the intentions of those who actually fight the wars may be. Wars are not, as most leaders would have us believe, honorable or winnable in any real sense other than in that of achieving the political and economic ends of those in power. War is hell. War is merely the wholesale slaughter of one people by another for reasons that have little or nothing to do with why we are told we must fight them. And as war becomes more “effective” the number of civilian casualties grows relatively greater all the time, threatening to become exponential.

The best way, then, to honor our war dead, is by seeking to ensure that war becomes the most unthinkable of all means to an end. No society that rejects homicide as a heinous crime should find war logical…and much less, glorious.