It’s Memorial Day?

What is it? I’m an American, I forget.

No, I kid. Of course I know what it is. It’s the day we commemorate all the soldiers who died brutal, bloody deaths in vicious wars in order to give us a three day weekend.

I guess here in Morris we also get a benediction and brunch out of their sacrifice. Woo hoo. All I can say is that I have a son in the army, the USA better not ever give me an excuse to visit a grave.


  1. robro says

    I thought it was race day in Indianapolis and the celebration of fast machines, at least that’s what it was for my dad.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    The Swedish dead soldiers of the last century have died on peacekeeping duties, first för the League Of Nations, later for the UN.
    The last Swedish soldiers to die for the corrupt ambitions of the government died in the Napoleonic wars.
    It is a hell of a good thing for a country to lose its empire early on. I recommend it.

  3. Susan Montgomery says

    If you’re really this dismissive about American institutions, you must be okay with how close we are to losing them, right? ;)

  4. says

    Here’s to the Viet Cong! They suffered horribly but they kicked the tiger in its ballsack. Their efforts against imperialism are worth memorializing.

  5. robro says

    @3 I’m not clear which “American institutions” we’re dismissive of although I would be happy to lose some…like the fetish over guns. Memorial Day is particularly gnarly problem given its uncertain origins, including various “Confederate Memorial Day” observances around the South in the late 19th century. Strictly speaking, today is the official observance so we get a three-day weekend, but not Memorial Day. That’s tomorrow, and the VFW advocates for returning to that “original” date although there were many original dates.

  6. Walter Solomon says

    We need another memorial to commemorate those who died because of America’s gun culture.

  7. Matt G says

    Is this the day we celebrate all the “suckers” who joined the military? I prefer war heroes who don’t get caught….

  8. Susan Montgomery says

    @6. It’s the “too cool for the room” put-on that always gets to me. Caring so much about what others think that you go out of your way to loudly proclaim you don’t care is always transparent bullshit.

  9. flange says

    The people of the military who have been killed are not heroes. They are victims.
    They are victims because they blindly followed orders from an insane, inhumane, conscienceless system.

  10. Susan Montgomery says

    Although, it is PZ’s blog, so if he wants to play the role of a poor little rich adolescent anarchist, who am I to say he can’t?

  11. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @5: Sure, memorialize whatever you like. As long as you don’t forget the atrocities they committed.

  12. birgerjohansson says

    The communists in Vietnam comitted a lot of atrocities, för instance against the etnic minorities.
    Having said that, the large scale of US military activities were pretty destructive. And there was very little accountability.

  13. says

    As long as you don’t forget the atrocities they committed.

    It’s atrocities all the way down.

    I guess I was being an asshole. Over at my place, Lochaber just said “I feel like we have the technology and knowledge to start building the foundations of a true utopia, but instead we are determined to cower under the table and claw each other’s eyes out over the scraps and crumbs of billionaires.” Exactly. Weep for the victims day. We divide ourselves into predators and prey.

  14. Tethys says

    A grave would be more than I have left of my son. I have a small box. Fuck the military.

  15. says

    Yes, Susan, if I even understood what your point is, I might reply to it. It looks like a whole lot of projection from here.

  16. says

    #15: I’m so sorry. My son at least is a rear echelon officer maintaining communications, and he’s not being sent off to a war zone.

  17. PaulBC says

    Susan Montgomery@3, etc. You’re conflating distinct types of “institutions” whether it’s intentional or not.

    It took a little searching, but this is a good description of the kind of “institutions” that liberals mean when we bemoan their loss:

    Institutions are the formal or informal ‘rules of the game’ that facilitate economic, social, and political interactions. These include such things as legal rules, property rights, constitutions, political structures, and norms and customs.

    This oddly, seems to be coming from a perspective of “Austrian” economics, which is libertarian, but that in itself makes the description useful as a baseline (and beats having to concoct my own).

    The military is of course an “institution” but it generally does not serve the purpose above. For instance, in cases when the military takes over the government (far from uncommon) that’s usually considered a breakdown of institutions in the above sense. It may be justified by its supporters as arising from the failure of those institutions, often combined with a weak promise to relinquish control once the failure is fixed.

    So look, I am not “too cool” for anything (believe me I am far from cool). I grew up in a pacifist family. “Military” mainly corresponded to that possibility that my oldest siblings might get drafted (they weren’t) (and as Catholics, conscientious objection is a tough case to make). I didn’t grow up with any positive feelings about the military.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t accept the basic concept of national defense. It just means I don’t get any warm fuzzies about it. It’s not an act. And yeah, I get moderately warm fuzzies about voting or even jury duty. Taxes, hmm… maybe not, but useful services provide by taxes, sure. I’ll take a well-paved road over a Blue Angels air show any day of week.

    What happened at least since the 1980s (assuming it wasn’t happening much early) was the simultaneous distrust of political institutions and dismissal of the broad notion of good citizenship, and its replacement with a near religious reverence for the military. Sorry, but I have no use for that.

    My condolences to anyone who has lost a loved one to war. Thankfully, I have not. I have a nephew who served during the Iraq war, came back alive, and is doing well. I have a couple of friends who were in the military at one point. I respect their personal choice and I’m just happy none of them got killed.

  18. hemidactylus says

    From the biased perspective of remembering the OSS Deer Team mission that was training Uncle Ho’s Viet Minh at about the time the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the French return and subsequent US escalation a bit after the anticolonial wake up call known as Dien Bien Phu could have been averted. Stupid ideas such as dominos and containment helped suck us into that tragic mess. Sure the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (“VC”) left much to be desired but it was no Phoenix Program. Yipes on that!

    And oddly Jim Morrison’s dad was very Tonkin Gulf incident adjacent. He wasn’t a countercultural icon as his son would become. Fun facts!

  19. hemidactylus says

    Though both may not have gotten the actual events exactly right, the movies We Were Soldiers and Black Hawk Down seem to capture quite well the brutality of war. One person not seen in the Gibson flick was named Rick Rescorla. He survived the Battle of Ia Drang and would die a hero in one of the towers during 9-11 getting his people out. Sadly that event would cause much collective psychological damage to the US and serve as justification for Dubya’s familial vendetta against Saddam. So many more lives damaged on both sides of that conflict. If we remember…remember it warts and all.

  20. raven says

    Xpost Infinite thread

    Russian state TV

    Perhaps the time has come possibly
    To admit that Russia’s special operation in Ukraine is over
    In the sense that a genuine war has begun
    What is more it is World War III
    We are forced to demilitarize not just Ukraine but all of NATO

    Russia just declared World War III on their state TV channel. They are going to demilitiarize NATO.
    As a citizen of a NATO country, I guess I won’t have to worry about what to do next week.

    Strangely enough, I sort of agree with them.
    We are in something that looks more and more like a war with Russia every day.
    We disagree on who will win it though.

  21. raven says

    Xpost Infinite Thread
    NATO just said the last NATO agreement with Russia is dead.
    We weren’t going to put permanent bases in their former captive nations on the border with Russia.
    We are going to do this as of right now though.

    “NATO is no longer bound by earlier commitments to refrain from deploying forces to Eastern Europe,” NATO Dep. Secr. General Mircea Geoană said.

    He says Moscow has annulled the NATO-Russia Act from 1997 by attacking UA.
    Good! Time for permanent bases in Central Eastern Europe!

    It looks like things are rapidly unraveling or heating up if you will, in Eastern Europe.
    The Russians aren’t going to like this. Good.

  22. wzrd1 says

    An official announcement was made that 13 sailors from the USS Indianapolis were officially declared buried at sea in the wreckage of the ship.
    There you go, the blinding speed of government. Navy blamed paperwork snafus, but everyone knows, a bug with seniority is now a feature.

    As for Russia, I consider early in the month that they claimed that the US declared total war on them rather telling, as the last total war fought was WWII, where we did declare war on the Axis powers and total war means an entire economy is dedicated to the prosecution of that war.
    I’m not seeing the bulk up of war industries, must be all stealth factories or something. Still, war eventually devolves into a numbers game. 320 million vs 145 million people, both nations oil wealthy in untapped oil to waste.
    But, I do find the history of the Norse originated Rus people, the Kievan Rus being the invading founders of the modern Russian people being preferentially attacked in Ukraine by Russian forces. Maybe an attempt at a retroactive abortion of themselves?
    Who am I kidding, they want a warm water port so badly they could always taste it. Odd choice though, given two straits to navigate past any wartime minefields laden with smart mines…
    All in waters that seem to cause severe fires aboard Russian vessels, maybe they’re made internally of potassium?
    Given their performance in Ukraine, suffice it to say, I’m far from impressed, indeed, utterly underwhelmed.
    Still, I’d prefer both sides forces sit down and do what soldiers do best – try to drink each other under the table, while trading meal components. I’d happily come out of retirement, if only to get some of that black bread that takes all day to cook. That and some split pea soup, nobody will want to fight after that meal.

  23. whheydt says

    Re: wzrd1 @ #24…
    As regards the official US entry into WW2… Not quit that way. Japan tried to finesse a declaration of war which didn’t work because Amb. Nomura was a lousy typist. He was supposed to deliver the ultimatum 30 minutes before the attack was scheduled to begin. In fact, Cordell Hull (Sec. of State) had a translation of the full document on his desk when Nomura arrived. Hull informed Nomura about the attack. That was on Sun. 7 Dec. On Monday, FDR addressed a joint session of Congress and announced that “a state of war exists” with Japan. On Wed. 9 Dec., Germany declared war on the US (in solidarity with Japan). The US response was, basically, “Well in that case…” and put the bulk of the effort into the war in Europe.

    tl,dr: The US did not declare war on the axis powers. One of them attacked us and the other main one declared war on the US. The US took the attack as a declaration of war and the other was simply acknowledged.

  24. whheydt says

    Re: PZ Myers @ #18…
    My father was a merchant marine officer (sailed as an engineering officer on tankers) in active war zones when we weren’t (yet) in that war. He wound up with a very strange medal for doing so. (I’ll get to that.) Seeing the handwriting on the wall, he applied to join the US Maritime Service and was accepted for officer training. He signed off his last tanker on 6 Dec. 1941 and reported to Fort Trumbell in New London, CT in Jan. 1942.

    After my mother died (my father had died years earlier) we found some postcards he had sent her in early 1942 (they were married in Nov. 1942). One comment he made was that he thought that perhaps he should have gone back into the Navy (he’d served from 1927 to 1933) as it might be safer. As it turned out, the Maritime Service gave him a shore job training other people how to handle to new electrical power systems that were being put into ships.

    Now as to the medal. At first, all we found was the uniform bar. I showed it to various people I knew that had military service and none could identify it. A couple even wondered if it was a US award at all. Eventually, we found a card that went with it. It was for “Service in the United States Merchant Fleet during the National Emergency of 1 Sept. 1939 to 6 Dec. 1941” (that is, after WW2 started and before we were in it) and was issued by the War Shipping Administration. (I’d bet that the emergency declaration wouldn’t surprise anyone here, but that it’s likely that no one had ever heard of it.)

  25. wzrd1 says

    @ whheydt #25, he was worse than a lousy typist, he wasn’t very good at decryption either. Sending the staff off was a true masterstroke in outsmarting oneself!
    The diplomatic code was long broken and fairly easy to break, the naval codes, not so much. For a few instances of new naval codes, we managed to trick them into sending both new code and old broken code or plaintext in one case in subsequent intelligence dispatches. The crypto side of the war is actually a fascinating historic topic of study.
    As for the emergency declaration, it’s well documented, but not taught about much. It’s one thing to declare war, it’s yet another thing entirely to put forces out to sea in quantity and before the declaration, well the commerce raiding was claiming US commerce and lives.
    The world wars resulted in men and entire units awarded foreign national medals, as well as US awarded medals and regulations allowed and encouraged their wear – well below anything the US awarded, of course.
    We’ve continued the tradition for awarding medals during emergency actions, such as for the Berlin Airlift and that’s continued even today.
    I have two types of award I rarely wore. One was awarded during events we were not to divulge, so that’s a no brainer to just not bother wearing and awards for stupid shit like showing up with one’s hair combed or something. That also helped in the career, as it doesn’t bode well with some commanders if one has more decorations all above one’s pockets than the commander has.
    Early in my career, my wife was admiring a ribbon my commander was wearing and asked how I could be awarded one. One glance and we both said that I’d not want one, I followed up with, I’d rather duck faster and the commander laughingly agreed. It was the ribbon for his purple heart.
    I continued my career, being highly effective in ducking.

  26. whheydt says

    Re: wzrd1 @ #27…
    As for the Purple Heart ribbon… One of Bill Mauldin’s cartoons from WW2 has one of his characters standing in front of a folding card table with another GI whose helmet has a cross on (marking him as a medic). Mauldin’s character is saying, “Naw. I got a purple heart. Just gimme a couple of aspirin.”

  27. davidbrown says

    @wzrd1 #24 Still, I’d prefer both sides forces sit down and do what soldiers do best – try to drink each other under the table, while trading meal components.

    Interestingly enough, the Canadian army did exactly that during a little-known raid on Spitzbergen (now Svalbard, Norwegian islands well above the Arctic circle) in September 1941. The Canadians went to evacuate Norwegian and Soviet citizens, and fight any Germans that may have been on the islands. There were no Germans, and the Norwegians were eager to go, but the Soviet consul in charge refused for bureaucratic reasons (mainly fear of being repatriated to the Soviet Union). The short story: the Canadian liaison officer got the man drunk, and while the consul was unconcious the remaining Soviets decided that being evacuated was a great idea.

    You can read the full (scholarly) story at:
    (starting at page 21 if you want to skip the rest of the article)

  28. whheydt says

    Re: wzrd1 @ #27…
    The other thing I should probably mention is that, when my father left the Maritime Service in 1954, it was about 3 months after he had been promoted to Lt. Commander. I don’t know–I’d probably have to get the records–but if he got a courtesy promotion after leaving (see what happened with Grace Hopper), he’d’ve been a full Commander. Since–so far as I know–the top rank in the Maritime Service is (or was) Commodore, that would have put him two ranks below the guy running the whole operation.

  29. PaulBC says

    robro@31 I was going to quip that our holidays are becoming more and more like the Star Trek TOS “Festival” but then I realized it wouldn’t work here. In The Return of the Archons they were limited to throwing rocks and so forth. In the US, we would be armed to the teeth and nearly everyone would be dead in the first 5 minutes or so.