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.


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?

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

Open Letter to the City Council – re: bust of Occupy

Gentlemen and Ladies of the City Council,

Regarding the recent police action against Occupy, I thought I would direct to you some public comments I have made recently on BDN’s public BBoard.

I think I do not exceed my authority as the Encampment Legal point person in saying that, while we all consider this police action to be very unfortunate, we nevertheless remain guardedly optimistic about working with the city to find a mutually satisfactory solution within the existing legal code. Continue reading

I was misquoted

 *correction to the Bangor Daily article* Alba Briggs said that uprooting the camp would mean throwing away the last month of work we’ve put in.  Not me.

I said that, yes, we may be the top-clicked story on the Bangor Daily website (partly no doubt because of all you beloved “Get A Job” trolls venting your spleens) — but we pull up our tents, we’re a flash in the pan and forgotten by Bangor.

America is sick.  Terribly sick.  It should be possible for a man making minimum wage to support a wife and three kids, without a dime of government assistance.  We had that once.  But now, minimum wage isn’t enough to support yourself.

We need to *push* American society off its present self-destructive course and onto a more reasonable one.  This takes *time*.  We *need* to keep at this.

Our white-collar organizational leaders, who put forth the proposal to pull up the camp, without actually *telling* anyone who lived at camp ahead of time, tell us maintaining the camp takes too much time, too much energy.  Some of the ones saying this, like Valerie, really put their heart and soul into keeping the camp alive. 

Now I know something about photography, and this picture -- in that light? -- is a real accomplishment

Other of those leaders, I can’t tell you what they do to keep camp running.  Sunny once called the encampment the “heart and soul” of Bangor’s Occupy movement.  Was up in arms when the city wanted us just to apply for a permit.  Now she wants us shut down.

What I said was, we decamp, and we become just another white-collar activist group doing deskwork and promotional stunts.  Camping out in Maine weather *means* something, and this is what has the nice old women from the Peace and Justice center running scared.  Trying to uproot our camp for our own good.

It’s amazing to me that we have to fight not only City Hall, but our own leadership to stay alive.

(open letter to the city council) Thanks for, and thoughts on, the recent workshop

Gentlemen and Ladies of the City Council,

I want to thank you for having the workshop, inspired by the desire to be a fair umpire to Occupy Bangor and in general.  I want to thank you for everything from the rousing speech about our nation’s origins in the early pilgrimages to this land, to the quiet expressions of determination to uphold the law, to the counterpoint that you are a policy-forming committee.  And I appreciate equally those moments of legal clarity from the city attourney, particularly in reference to the law of unintended consequences.

Please understand that I have no position of authority at Occupy Bangor, and everything I say here is from me, as a citizen who is deeply committed to the peaceful protest that has formed in this city.

This is simply my view of the matter.

There were only a few focused, specific questions which you asked of us, the public.  These I can address, and the concerns from which they seem to spring.  I can also address the questions I imagine you might ask.  But there are undoubtedly questions you have not asked, which I can not anticipate, and I would encourage you to publish them with the announcement of the next meeting’s time.

One question Mr. Sprague asked was, “How long do you intend to be there?”  Another was, “How is being limited to park hours ‘onerous’?”

The group has not reached consensus on a time-frame.  The brave reply you may get from people is, “As long as it takes!” 

My reply is, “Until spring.” 

One passerby asked me, “What happens in spring?”

I told him, “We come up with another plan.”

This is Maine.  Camping out will be safe — if there is any risk to life or limb, I personally promise I will lead the retreat into a headed structure — but miserable.  Utterly miserable.  It will be a hardship.

As a hobo, I have a notion of what deliberately going through a hardship does to a person’s character, as a matter of choice.  It tempers your character.  It causes you to live in reality and not fantasy.  It wakes you up wonderfully.

You learn, in other words, something about what you can personally accomplish under your own power simply by being determined.  I want this for these people.  I want the college kids who have an interest in political activism to be tempered in this way. Continue reading