Why do we wrap dead soldiers in the flag?

If you’re late to the controversy, Chris Hayes asked this Memorial day whether dead U.S. soldiers are “heroes.” This was in a full and serious study of grief and its role in politics, for example quoting Joe Biden talking about getting the call that his wife and daughter had died. The entire TV show is here. For asking this question, Chris Hayes has been roundly condemned.

What he said was:

“Why do I feel so uncomfortable about the word ‘hero’?  I feel uncomfortable about the word hero because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.”

One reply on this was by Kurt Sclitcher:

“But it’s the progressives’ own doing – their sickening performance following the Vietnam War, when they figuratively and literally spit on our troops – so disgusted decent Americans of all political stripes that to do anything but treat our troops with the utmost respect is to draw near-universal contempt and scorn from across the mainstream political spectrum.”

But the talking heads don’t really get at the issue.  They look into the language around it — words like “hero” and “sacrifice.” Why is the death of a soldier a sacrifice?  Why not a cost?

A friend of mine wrote a post urging everyone to remember on Memorial Day the sacrifices made for us all.  I wrote:  “…by Iraqis?”

It’s incredibly dangerous to get into the mindset that, because people have died, and because their death is linked to a cause, that their death is a sacrifice for that cause.  The purpose of making this link is to give value to their death.  But of course valuing death is inherently problematic.

If we pay a soldier’s life for a war, then the cost of the war is (at least) that soldier’s life.  But the word sacrifice tells us the soldier’s life represents the value of the war. Question the war’s value and you implicitly say the soldier died for nothing.

Ergo–You must not question the war’s value.

Some of the rest of us talked about this too.  The Facebook exchange I mention resulted in me PMing a good friend this:

Individual soldiers who volunteer — are not drafted — bear moral responsibility for their personal choices. Some are good people who want to contribute. Some are looking for an opportunity to kill people. Some want money and are willing to kill people to get it. That is the reality.

Random quote: “All of the guys I grew up with ended up either in prison or joining the military.” — I found that illuminating.

Consider Bush Jr’s defense against every evil lunatic thing he did: it is by such appeal to sentiment, that our soldiers are heros and the enemy, who died on their native soil, are terrorists, that the police state is maintained.

Such thinking is from the “point of view” of the state. But America is not a person, and if it were I would hope it would have something to say about the people who kill to profit themselves and claim they’re doing it for her.

I’m writing this to you personally just because I find you generally committed to intellectual honesty, and I think if you look into this honestly you’ll see you’ve been sold a bill of goods, that every soldier who enlists for idealistic reasons has been, and that it is the kind of flag-waving over dead soldiers promulgates that bill of good’s sale.

The flag is what we wrap dead soldiers in when we ship them home. The claim is that this somehow benefits the soldier. In fact, it benefits the flag.

Why do we wrap dead soldiers in the American flag when we bring them home?

In WWII, Himmler said that, “Every airman who dies in combat adds to the strength of our air force.”

That is why we wrap dead soldiers in the flag.

I remember into the first year of the Iraq war, the news reported that one soldier had died.  The soldier had written a letter requesting that, if he died, his death not be used for political purposes, neither to argue for nor against the war.

I do not personally feel that, in our current circumstances, soldiering is a morally defensible profession.  It is wrong to kill people, and the fact that Uncle Sam makes it  legal in war to kill does not make it right. Iraq did not have WMDs. These are not wars on our soil. There are better ways to make the world a better place than killing people.


Easter Conversation w/ the Boys (a couple Easters ago)

One Easter, I was having breakfast with a small crowd of guys in a restaurant.  The only thing we had in common was that we all liked girls.  The youngest one of us, who was very good at getting girls, had explained this alone hadn’t made him happier.  He had, in the past, nevertheless been suicidal.

He and his friend overwhelmed the conversation, talking about people who weren’t there and no one else knew.  I told them a few times to talk about something else, but they kept coming back around to people nobody knew.

“If you don’t like it then you talk about something,” they told me.

“All right,” I said. “This is Easter.  Easter is the anniversary of what event?”

“The crucifixion,” the youngest one of us said.

“Right.  And do you know what happened to Christ after he died?”

I don’t know.  He went to heaven?”

“No, he didn’t.  He went to hell.  He spent three days in hell, and then he came back to check in with his followers.”


“You know what he did in hell?” Continue reading

ATTN: Conservatives, RE: Contraception

CONSERVATIVES – Now look.  This really isn’t my thing, but:  if you really honestly want to reduce the number of abortions — all those souls — why the FK wouldn’t you want Uncle Sam to fund contraception?  Doesn’t it occur to you that you are creating the problem?

A Kind of Communion (notebook entry)

There is nothing I must not look at, no truth I must hide from, nothing I will not see.  Yes, no doubt there will be much I never will understand, through failure to read the right books, or failure of curiosity, or outright stupidity.  But I will never be willfully ignorant.  I decided that a long time ago.  How long ago?  When I learned of Freud and unconscious motivations.  That hiding your own ugliness from yourself makes you sick.  But it seems now that that choice was already there, as if it were waiting for me to discover it, as if I had somehow made it long before, during childhood, and like an old stuffed animal, an old favorite, it was waiting all of that time for me to come back to it. Continue reading

Occupy Xmas: the video (script)

A short video explaining Occupy.

THE SCENE:  An upscale, middle-American kitchen.  The remains of a big baking project lie piled in and around the sink.

There are THREE GINGERBREAD HOUSES on the countertop, each with a GINGERBREAD COUPLE out front.  One couple is clearly Caucasian — a man and a woman — one clearly African-American, and one two men.


Three to five SMALL CHILDREN.  Each child is dressed as a bank, somehow, with the appropriate logo worn prominently.

A WORKING CORPORATE MOM, who somehow balances the demands of motherhood with a successful carreer.  She is at first partially dressed up in her costume, then leaves and returns, fully in the role of “Aunt Sam” (a female Uncle Sam).

THE GUY BEHIND THE CAMERA, who we hear but never see.  Male gaze.

OPENING SHOT of normal pandemonium in the kitchen, of the kind you’d get with a bunch of kids milling around.

GUY BEHIND CAMERA:  So explain to me what we’re doing here.

CORPORATE MOM:  Getting ready.

GUY:  No, for the camera.  What’s the project?

MOM:  Oh — Well with Christmas coming and everyone still being so angry and bitter about the poor banks, who are just trying to survive in hard economic times like anyone else, I thought this year we’d have the kids put on a little skit representing America!

So every kid is a bank.  This is Bank of America, this is Chase bank [and so on].  When we get to Grandma’s and the cousins are all together —

GUY:  Wait, who are you? Continue reading

A Worried Citizen

Rather than fight an enemy tribe directly, primitive peoples know it’s a good trick to work them into war with another enemy tribe.  Two tribes fight over nonsense, and the third gets a free ride and a free show. The U.S. has in the past shamefully been accused of providing weapons to both nations in certain military conflicts: same trick.  The third tribe benefits from engineering war between the first two.

Recent event in Portland, OR.

Occupy Bangor got a few calls of “support” that really sewed suspicion and distrust between them and city officials. When the city began to enforce its park ordinances, finally, after cutting them remarkable slack — Occupy Bangor asked people to call the city to support them.

Occupy got a few calls to them, saying: “I just called a city councilman and asked his true motives for shutting you down. I asked if he’d received any big donations lately. And his answer seemed fishy to me.”

Clearly this has put suspicion in the minds of Occupy.  A third tribe couldn’t have done better.

The real motive for the city Continue reading

Christianity Continues To Fail Our Youth

I am a religious man without, particularly, a religion.  These days people call this “being spiritual,” and often people — especially women — will tell me, as they get a sense of my personality, “I have the feeling you’re a very spiritual person.”

I’m not.  I’m religious.  I just happen to lack a religion.

The difference between a spiritual and a religious person is in the motive.  A spiritual person is in the game for themselves.  They are looking to develop themselves, in much the same way a man or woman who goes to the gym does.  This is perfectly respectable.

A religious person, in contrast, wants to put themselves in service.  This is not necessarily exactly altruistic, in the sense that we think of Mother Theresa’s life of service to humanity as altruistic.  In my case, I wanted my existence to matter.  I wanted, and want, to become a positive force for good in this world, and this is somewhat more egotistical than Mother Theresa’s motive.

I tell you this by way of introduction.  That, as we say, is my trip.  I go to different churches sometimes, when I have a free Sunday.  I meditate sometimes.  What I find attractive in Christianity and Buddhism is the emphasis on cultivating brotherly love, on cultivating kindness and compassion.

I have never gone to church and heard this topic addressed.  Not once.  Have you?  I mean, have you ever gotten a sermon or instruction on actually cultivating brotherly love?

At the Bangor Public Library’s catalog computer earlier this week, the machine spontaneously gave me a drop-down list of the previous user’s search terms.  Those terms were:

self help
spiritual growth & self-help
spiritual healing
spiritual healing & meditation
spiritual healing / buda
spiritual healing / budist
yesterday i cried Continue reading