Memorial Day 2012: A Day to Ask Why

From the May 2012 PNL #814

Arnold Steiber

The parades. The flags. The proud men in uniform carrying their weapons like beacons—these will guide us, these will bring us “freedom,” these are what make us strong. There will be cookouts and sales. Eat. Buy. Talk of sports, kids and the weather. Nothing serious. Don’t spoil the day. Don’t upset anyone.

As children we naturally asked “why?” Why is the sky blue? Why do ants live in holes? As we move along the path that turns into a trail, that turns into a street, that turns into a highway, we learn to not ask. Easier to go along with the flow, learn what is taught, repeat it to the young. Work. Pay the bills. Count your blessings. Don’t ask why. Not enough time.

Questioning, Again
In January of 2003 I began to ask why. It was late at night and I was home alone. I turned on the TV. The movie Platoon was on. I had never watched violent shows nor read anything about war or Viet Nam since I left there in March of 1971. Now, all these years later, I figured it was time and I could handle it. The scene was a US patrol entering a village. I saw the kids with their big, dark eyes, skinny bodies and ragged clothes—and it all came back—the sights, the sounds, the smells. I turned off the TV and sat in a darkened room. It was like a lightning bolt followed by thunder. It hit me ... and then proceeded to roll through my mind. “Now what?” I asked myself.

Arny holding his new grandson (born in March). Photo: Stieber familyArny holding his new grandson (born in March). Photo: Stieber familyThe next day was a frenzy of activity. Answers. Answers. I needed answers. The internet became my life. Unstructured for the first few months, I consumed a new world of information. At age 57 with an MBA, it seemed like I should have known these things. But I was almost totally ignorant. Information on war, peace, politics, world affairs, religion, organizations—the list grew each day. I needed structure. After several months I formulated two questions: “Why war?” and “Why do we so proudly send our children to kill other children?”

My research revealed that the main causes of war are money and markets. There is always plenty of flag-waving and bluster about the “evil ones,” but every war I’ve studied, once you begin peeling back the layers, has money and markets as a common core.

War Is Everywhere
Why do we send our kids to kill? Because that’s how we raise them. There is an everpresent message that violence is the solution to conflict. Go into any park in any town and you’ll probably see a military statue or a cannon. Veterans’ memorials are everywhere. Veterans and the military lead parades. The military carries the flag into sporting events. POW-MIA flags fly. Highways are named after wars, war veterans, and generals. Battleships are named after presidents. We have civil war reenactments. We call the military, “service.” Violence is in our language—“I could just kill my kids,” “bullet points,” and sports announcers inject “kill,” “beat,” “destroyed” into their descriptions. The more overt influences are easy—violent video games, TV violence, toy weapons, paintball parks. It’s there. Every day. All of these lower the barriers to hurting others.

Make It a Special Day
Memorial Day 1946 is my birthday. Memorial Day 1970, I was in Nam. Memorial Day 2003, I was waking up to my military experience. I’d like to see Memorial Day 2012 be a day for dialogue on issues that really matter.

There are many things to discuss. Why are weapons our number one export product? Why do we have over 700 military bases in over 140 countries? Why do almost half of our tax dollars go to the war industry? Why do we cheer when the government assassinates someone? Why do we allow those in power to demonize entire nations, cultures or religions? Why do we ignore the Geneva Convention and use torture? Why do we think we are better than the rest of the world’s people? Why are we so afraid? Why do we read so little and watch TV so much? Why don’t we know our history? Why don’t we talk about “difficult” things?

So, while you’re grilling your hot dogs or standing at the parade, bring up an issue, get other viewpoints, engage in dialogue. The children and this country are depending on it. Make Memorial Day a day to ask—Why?

Arnold is a husband, father, grandfather, retired business owner and military veteran (Army, infantry, Viet Nam). He’s a member of Veterans For Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He blogs at: