Mike Taibbi / NBC News
The mawkish, strident adulation for fallen American soldiers—mostly sons and daughters of the underclass—reaches a crescendo during perverted “holidays’ like memorial Day, as the propaganda mills of the Empire work double time to reinforce the prevailing chauvinist myths that imprison the American consciousness from cradle to grave. It’s all part of the cynical propaganda playbook used by the elites to keep the “great unwashed” doing their bidding. I say cynical because the upper tiers, while seeming to partake of the reverence, cold-bloodedly manipulate people’s most fundamental emotions to serve their ends: thus bonds of love and gratitude for the fallen; the deeply ingrained, tribal love and respect of country; and hatred and fear toward “the other”— our designated enemies du jour—all are marshaled to keep the population well within the approved catechism.
While trying to inject some sanity into this self-congratulatory orgy, many antiwar activists are often surprised if not shocked by the fierceness with which some wounded vets (and their kin) defend the goodness of their mission. They should not be. It is a huge tragedy, alright. And it’s perfectly human. For what could be more tragic than giving up your life or your health in the service of a criminal enterprise? After all people who have invested so much, who lost precious limbs or their sight, who suffered grotesque disfigurements, who witnessed the death of close comrades, are not the kind of audience to welcome with open arms someone telling them they went through all that hell for nothing, and, that, to top it all off, they were not only terribly unlucky but played for suckers. It’s a classical case of cursing the messenger, of finding the Matrix a lot more comforting to live with than the truth.
Separate the person from the mission
Hard as it is, the work of public education about our wars must continue. For propaganda —and often poverty and immaturity—killed these men, each and everyone of them—whether they fell in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan, or in any other of the scores of outposts where the imperial elites have decided to meddle. These people never quite understood what they were doing (most still don’t) but their actions—some ugly enough to leave them with psychic scars for life, which is undoubtedly a testament to their decency— in no way enlarged or strengthened America’s freedoms or security. They merely created more sworn enemies for the United States.
EXCERPT FROM COMING HOME (1978), directed by Hal Ashby. In this concluding scene, paraplegic vet Luke Martin (Jon Voight, who that year won best actor award for this role), addresses an audience of high school kids to warn them about the risk of falling for the war propaganda being dished out by a Marine recruiter. This powerful scene is intercut with the suicide of Capt. Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern, also in a memorable role) a man who returns home totally broken inside, and the life sustaining chores of the women (Jane Fonda and a friend), all wrapped up in a magnificent musical score. Coming Home is one of the best antiwar films ever made. Too bad that Voight has since veered sharply to the right and is now a silly outspoken shill for Republicans. Apparently, like many actors, he learned little from the noblest part he ever played.
Of course, as explained earlier, attacking the carefully seeded propaganda minefield is tough in America; the truth goes against the grain of what most people have been indoctrinated to believe and hold dear in our country. After all, the best propaganda is usually grounded in half-truths, with the “true” part making the lie easier to swallow. In this case, if you observe the example I use below (courtesy of NBC)—a routine exercise, mind you, for our Big Media controllers—the words and deeds of “patriotic Americans” ring true because they are true. Most propaganda disseminated in the US is for consumption by the “hinterland”, the social and cultural “backwaters” of the nation, the people who innocently eat clichés for breakfast, lunch and dinner; who never quite shed the “Leave It To Beaver” mindset; who furnish disproportionately the bodies in uniform who kill and get killed; and who vote regularly against their own interest…not by the smart kids at Yale, Harvard and other bastions of privilege who will later move on to hedge funds or other cushy spots in the social pyramid. These people are not faking their emotions, but having genuine feelings of sadness and gratitude, a huge sense of loss for those who went and never came back, or came back unplugged. That’s the entire reality they see, and their reaction is understandable.
Unfortunately, being genuinely sad, angry or joyful about something does not preclude being at the same time manipulated and completely wrong about it, and that’s where the catch-22 is. These people are following a script, a faux reality implanted in them, and transmitted via all cultural channels, all pulpits, many decades ago, way before they were born. Fact is, how many of our soldiers would have enthusiastically put on the uniform to fight “for truth and freedom”, the American Way, etc., if they had known it was all a cruel hoax? That the glorious crusades in places they had never heard of before would be about further enriching a puny, filthy rich sociopathic minority or helping a bunch of multinationals and their system maintain control over the world? That they would be seen —correctly—as oppressors and not as liberators? Not many takers I think, except for the war lovers and the mercenaries in our midst, but that’s another story. Some people are simply born stupid or indecent, and there’s no sending them back.
Yet the power of propaganda, the power of mass psychosis and conformity to coerce behavior is immense, especially when the truth about the social reality has been decisively stamped out. What’s more, people fighting for the “wrong cause” can be awfully heroic, too, and, at the retail level, quite nice, which confuses matters even further. How many Southerners died in the Civil War defending what they thought was a noble cause instead of the obscene way of life of an oppressing plantocracy? And what about the Nazis? Germany’s armies in WW2 had millions who fought bravely for what they saw as the righteous cause of the “Vaterland”. Or—the supreme irony—something that would improve on capitalism! They were horridly wrong, but it took the industrial might of the greatest powers on earth, and the mobilization of massive armies across the globe to straighten them out. Chauvinist and narcissistic lies die hard, literally.
Next time you feel saddened and angered by all these coffins and broken bodies coming home, these endless wars, the scandalous dedication of badly needed social resources to destruction and greed, think about the fact that, in general, most wars are needless, futile and criminal enterprises, notably those which are wars of conquest. Against such a backdrop, a just peace is the greatest bargain, the most beautiful thing anyone could dream of. And that is something really worth fighting for.
Patrice Greanville is The Greanville Post’s founding editor.
OTHER FILMS YOU SHOULD WATCH ON MEMORIAL DAY
Born on the Fourth of July
All Quiet on the Western Front
The Battle of Algiers
EXHIBIT / Material reproduced under fair use clauses, as editorial comment. This kind of propaganda obfuscating and whitewashing the actual motives for our wars is routine operating procedure throughout the corporate media.
In Pocatello, Idaho, virtually the entire town has been involved in a special Memorial Day celebration. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.
By Mike Taibbi, NBC News correspondent
POCATELLO, Idaho — I was walking past a hard-used SUV when the passenger window rolled down and a woman’s crooked finger emerged, summoning me over to talk.
“See that man over there, in the red cap?” she asked. “That’s my husband. He started all this…”
‘All this.’ As I let my vision follow hers, I saw a vista beneath a morning drizzle of more than 6,000 simple white crosses arranged more or less precisely, filling the entire soccer field behind Pocatello’s Century High School. The crosses, seized together by a local Korean War veteran and then painted, labeled and tapped carefully into the turf by hundreds of volunteers of every age and interest, were the once-a-year memorial to the fallen in America’s two longest wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We have right now 6,378 casualties,” said the man in the cap, who introduced himself as John Rogers. “Each cross has a label, with the name and unit and casualty date…and if we can keep this going we’re not gonna forget them.”
I told him his wife Joyce had explained his motivation to me: on the day he came home to San Francisco from his war, Vietnam, a “hippie girl” protester had met him as he stepped off the ship and let him know for the first time what his welcome home would be like … no matter his two Purple Hearts and three tours fighting for his country.
John nodded. “She come up to me, she stops and holds up her arms like this…” He pantomimed carrying an infant. “And she says, ‘Hey, you baby burner!’”
So in 2004, with the controversial Iraq war a year old and Afghanistan an intensifying warzone following 9/11, he decided to see to it that the veterans fighting and dying in those two conflicts would be treated differently. He got some fellow veterans to help him find the wood for the crosses and to fabricate simple labels, and talked the town into giving him the use of a piece of land. Then he set up the first “Field of Heroes.”
It was a simple idea, “sort of like the Vietnam Memorial in Washington,” Rogers said. A gathering place where each name with identifying details would allow loved ones to reclaim moments of personal connection and remembrance, while permitting strangers who just needed to give thanks a gateway to learn what they choose to learn about the heroes who gave their lives so the rest of us can continue to flourish in ours.
That first year, there were fewer than 1,400 crosses. Now, with well over 6,000, there’s almost no more room for additional crosses on Century High’s field; but the Iraq War is effectively over, and Afghanistan is winding down.
Iraq war veteran Bruce Marley paints the crosses marking fallen comrades at Pocatello, Idaho’s ‘Field of Heroes.’ Each cross includes the soldier’s name, rank, unit, and type of casualty.
“If we’re lucky, we won’t need this eventually,” Rodgers said. “But look,” he continued, gesturing. “Now we have people … veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan … they come here and find the special friend they lost over there … they get down on their knees and pray, in front of their crosses.”
And then there are the loved ones of the fallen: like Tiffany Petty, whose husband Jerrick Petty, with two toddlers back home in Pocatello, volunteered to go to Iraq only to be killed three days after landing. Tiffany spent several days with the volunteers affixing labels on the crosses of the other war dead, whose service and sacrifice have too often been overlooked by too many.
“I’ve seen that happen, and it just hurts,” she told me. “It hurts your heart, it hurts your soul … we need to remember these people.” She looked across the broad field, a thick coil of labels hanging from one wrist. “And we need to remember them not as a group of people, but as specific people.”
Prepping for Memorial Day
For a few years now, Pocatello’s “Field of Heroes” has been too big a job for John Rogers to handle with just a handful of friends. Now Bannock County is lending a hand, and whole platoons of volunteers plow into a full week of preparatory work so the field will be ready when the long Memorial Day weekend starts.
Mike Taibbi / NBC News
Pocatello, Idaho’s annual memorial, ‘Field of Heroes,’ honors each of the dead service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Scout troops, high school kids, and senior citizens pitch in, alongside strangers who are moved to lend a hand. Big tents with generator-fired heaters warm the volunteers; the local Sign-A-Rama shop makes and donatesthe waterproof labels; and professional surveyors measure the field and line up the rows so the matrix of crosses looks the way it should. In the middle of the Snake River Plain, in the shadow of the foothills of the Rockies, more than a full brigade of the honored dead appear in silent and precise formation.
The visitors come from all over the West, bonding over a patriotism that’s as humbling as it is palpable, and understanding each other’s tears. In fact, there’s nothing like it anywhere in the country, though the feelings generated by a visit to this Pocatello yearly shrine are like those that arise from a famous national shrine:
“Arlington Cemetery is a long way from here,” said Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad. “There’s a special spirit there … but you come here, you can feel that same spirit.”
“It’s immense now,” Rogers said, a touch of wistfulness in his voice as he surveyed what his simple idea had turned into. “But it’s not just a field of crosses…you can come out and read each name…the dates, the places they died…and if you want you can learn their stories.
“It’s important, that we don’t forget the young people we’ve sent to war.”
The old soldier smiled. “Oh yeah,” he said, pointing to the flags stretched by the breeze on the periphery of the field. Each flag was accompanied by a yellow streamer. “I still make the printed yellow ribbons for every local soldier coming home. I’ll keep doing that.”
ACHTUNG! ACHTUNG! (Hmm…that got your attention, uh?)
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