Viewpoint: 1.3 million have died in America’s wars. What did they make their ultimate sacrifice for?

Viewpoint: 1.3 million have died in America’s wars. What did they make their ultimate sacrifice for?
Karen Rubin, Columnist

At Memorial Day commemorations, it is inevitable that speakers will declare that the 1.3 million who have died fighting in America’s wars, from the Revolution to Afghanistan made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms, our democracy, our Rule of Law and “equal justice.”

“For generations, stretching back to the formation of our country, these courageous people answered duty’s call, willing to give their lives for that which we all hold dear,” President Biden declared in his 2023 Memorial Day Proclamation. ”They fought for our Independence.  They defended our democracy.  They sacrificed for our freedom.  And today, as they lie in eternal peace, we continue to live by the light of liberty that they so bravely kept burning bright around the world.”

The pain of loss, he said, “is wrapped around the knowledge that your loved one was part of something bigger than any of us; that they chose a life of mission and purpose; and that they dared all, risked all, and gave all to preserve and defend an idea unlike any other in human history:  the United States of America.

No one ever says those who were sacrificed in America’s wars died to make a leader be more re-electable, more powerful, more able to act with impunity and shut down any dissent, as in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not that they died to fill the pockets of arms dealers and industrialists, as in World War I.

Not that they died to sell newspapers, as Hearst and Pulitzer did to goad the US into the Spanish American War, prompting the phrase, “Yellow Journalism.”

Not that they died for some jingoistic slogan or for the sheer, mere, glory of some monarch, dictator or even for god.

No, we are told they made the ultimate sacrifice gloriously, preserving our freedom, our ideals, our values against those who would enslave us.

In the not so distant past, it would have been easier to delineate those ideals and values. Still, there might be an argument from Blacks who fought for the Union and their freedom, and Blacks who returned from “saving the world for democracy” in World War II who were beaten to put them back in their place in the Jim Crow South.

And now the legacy of the 1.3 million who have fallen to preserve our “American way of life” is even more debatable, tenuous at best.

You have a Supreme Court Justice waving the nation’s flag upside down to show his solidarity with a deadly insurrection, an attempted coup, a violation of every facet and aspect of the oath to protect and defend the Constitution and faithfully execute the laws of the United States, and another Supreme Court Justice whose wife was an active participant in the insurrection.

You have judges literally obstructing justice and interfering in an election – even willing to clear the path for an insurrectionist to become President, in violation of the 14th amendment – by deliberately stalling, failing to apply law, as they swear, “without fear or favor.”

You have legislators actively challenging an independent judicial process to review evidence and render judgment, nullifying any semblance of “Rule of Law” that is so fundamental to “democracy” and our cherished “freedom.”

You have Legislatures suppressing access to ballots and subverting election results. You have a judge that has overturned protections for election workers at polling places to be free of intimidation.

You have legislators and courts stripping away the rights, freedom, liberty, autonomy and personhood of every female in the country, relegating every woman to less than whole citizens, less than whole sentient adult humans. (Have you heard the latest? A bill to repeal “no fault divorce” so women will be trapped in abusive marriages, another bill to allow 12 year olds to marry or be married off, proposed bans on abortion medication, contraception, overturning Red Flag laws that keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers; proposed legislation to monitor pregnant women, ban their travel out of state.)

Most egregious is the uneven way laws are enforced, whether it is in marijuana prosecutions or voting offenses, or how police are still murdering innocent people.

Free protest? Texas Governor Greg Abbott just pardoned a man who gunned down a protester for George Floyd criminal justice, while bills are pending to allow protesters to be mowed down by motorists, as in Charlottesville, VA. Meanwhile, you have Trump and others vowing to call out the National Guard against protests they don’t like, while insisting that January 6 insurrectionists are “hostages” who should be pardoned and freed to do it again.

Freedom of ideas? Not when you have people openly wielding assault weapons at Town Halls, at rallies or marches, in front of polling places (but not at the Supreme Court, the NRA convention or any Trump rally), or boards that regulate public schools banning history, books and speech.

Free speech? Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed laws making it illegal to discuss history, gender identity, and even to use the term” climate change” in government documents.

And what of the Rule of Law that depends on no man being above it? Well look at the campaign Trump and his minions have waged to delegitimize and nullify the judicial process.

Memorial Day is typically when serving in the military is glorified (how else to get people to make the ultimate sacrifice?). But on this Memorial Day, it is worth remembering that Trump, who is desperate to reclaim the role of Commander-in-Chief (to stay out of prison) called those killed in battle and those who suffered as prisoners of war or lifetime injuries, “losers” and “suckers,” repeatedly disparaged the intelligence of service members, asked that wounded veterans be kept out of his military parades, couldn’t bear to “sacrifice” having his hairdo mussed by rain to visit the graves of Americans buried in France, and said of Senator John McCain, “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

And yet these Make America Great Again (?) cultists, these Republican politicians who have chosen to follow Trump as their leader without question, who has proclaimed he will be a dictator (if only for a day) and seek retribution against political enemies, will no doubt be marching in their hometown Memorial Day parades, wearing and waving the biggest flags, and claiming to be more patriotic than any one else.

So what did the 1.3 million who have died in America’s wars sacrifice their lives for?

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