J. Edward Carp has already written a fine piece on Memorial Day, but I see no reason why there isn’t room for another. One might expect an anarchist such as myself to simply trash veterans as stooges of the state, but I have a more nuanced perspective to offer.
Memorial Day is often used by pro-war forces to promote more military action, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It can be a simple remembrance of the victims of war. These said victims can be both fallen soldiers and civilians. It need not be a jingoistic holiday used to justify further militarism.
A related issue is whether one should support the troops or not and what group of troops. Charles Johnson has written the following on this issue in the context of the Iraq War:
- The things done in the prosecution of the Iraq War are evil.
- There are some (many) American soldiers who willingly do the things done in the prosecution of the Iraq War.
- If soldiers willingly do things that are evil, they bear (at least some) moral responsibility for them.
- You shouldn’t support people who bear (at least some) moral responsibility for doing things that are evil.
- Therefore, there are some (many) American soldiers you shouldn’t support.
What about supporting the troops in other contexts, where they display different behaviors? That could be permissible, but a libertarian shouldn’t support troops when they are engaged in mass murder.
Is contempt proper in this scenario? Roderick Long writes:
If a basically decent person has been unfairly manipulated into carrying out an unjust policy, despising that person is hardly an appropriate response. But neither is support.
Short of surmising that the vast majority of human beings are psychopaths committed to aggressive violence, we can probably safely hypothesize that the vast majority of troops are basically decent people interested in only defensive force.
It may also be possible to not support all the troops but only particular ones like Chelsea Manning. Kevin Carson writes:
Let’s get something straight. Manning may be a criminal by the standards of the American state. But by all human standards of morality, the government and its functionaries that Manning exposed to the light of day are criminals. And Manning is a hero of freedom for doing it.
Another question pertains to whether we should honor or respect soldiers for defending our society or freedoms. The statement that they have done so or are doing so is merely an assumption until sufficient proof is provided. A lot of U.S. wars have been unjust wars of aggression or imperialism, so I have a hard time swallowing the idea that we owe the troops for protecting our freedoms or genuinely defending us. It can also be dangerous to honor or respect someone, because they perceive themselves as protecting the society you happen to live in. This was no doubt the view of Confederate and German soldiers during World War 2.
The final thing to consider is whether warrior-ship is a virtue or not. The perspective presented here is a bit unsure. On the one hand violence or coercion is awful, but it’s difficult to say that defensive violence is a necessary evil without unjustly indicting the moral character of those involved in using it. One can clearly say that aggressive violence or coercion is an unmitigated evil. Let’s work to put an end to this.