Since 2001 Memorial Day has become a more poignant event for many people in the United States and there's a great emphasis on actually 'keeping' the day as opposed to merely having a cookout or just enjoying an extra day off. Since September 11, there has been a renaissance in the realms of patriotism and reverence for the military. And no doubt this in part is something of a reaction to the shadow that hung over the US military in the wake of Vietnam.
The Gulf War of 1991 was something of a triumph for the US military and its propaganda machine and yet the wars of the 1990s, imperialism in the guise of humanitarianism, often failed to inspire.
All that changed in 2001.
If you live in small town America, Memorial Day is a time of parades and visits to the cemetery. If you're like my wife, you have family in almost every cemetery in a ten mile radius. For some members of her family, the day is a big deal, a time of keeping traditions. Visiting cemeteries, remembering family, keeping the stories and history alive for your children is not a bad thing and yet for many Memorial Day is specifically about the military and the commemoration of the people and their deeds. The footprint and impact of the military and its culture is felt strongly in rural America and its presence seems to be growing. As more and more of the rural poor 'sign-up', largely due to a lack of economic opportunities, small town America is becoming more invested in the military apparatus and subject to its publicity and spin.
Having immersed myself in US history and being a Christian I cannot help but have a different response to all of this. Most of US history is little more than packaged lies and this is never more true than when it comes to the issue of war and the memorialisation of fallen soldiers.
This Memorial Day I don't want to remember US soldiers. They did not die for my freedom. Most countries of the world have civic freedom and certainly freedom of religion and few have had to kill as many as the United States in order to attain that status, some not at all. America's wars are of its choosing and its own making. World War II is the only conflict that can challenge this statement and hence it is the moral and (for some) existential crisis in the realm of ethics and questions of war and peace.
World War II was indeed terrible and many people (not so much in the United States) were faced with impossible, unfathomable choices and ethical tangles which defy principle. Yet, as usual World War II is also enshrouded and swathed with lies and misinformation. Nowhere is this more true than in the United States and its frankly absurd narratives about the causes, course and conclusion of the war. Even a cursory examination exposes the American storyline for what it is... propaganda.
The US didn't need to wage war for 'our freedom', let alone our religious freedom in any war since its inception. And as I've often argued even the American Revolution cannot be justified in terms of the Scripture. In terms of Christian ethics, the Revolution/Rebellion has no moral standing and was an exercise in sin. But America has long been on the imperial path, marching to conquer, force its way in, steal and punish all who resist. Washington DC is an imperial city and was conceived as such. The United States was the initiation of a new world order, even an Enlightenment empire and it has fulfilled that role.
Millions have died and that is no exaggeration.
When one considers the conquest of North America, the fallacious thievery that was the Mexican-American War and the near extinction of the native peoples, the death toll is fairly impressive. I'm not even speaking of the natives that died secondarily as a result of disease. I'm speaking of those deliberately killed through direct warfare and the implementation of policies that would lead to their deaths.
Then when we consider Latin America, the death toll swells. The US has at one time or another invaded most of the countries of Central America, many Caribbean islands and has wreaked havoc in South America through proxy war and client dictatorships. Hundreds of thousands have died, families have been destroyed and lands have been forever poisoned.
What shall we say of US activities in Africa, Cold War and Post-Cold War Europe? And then there's the Middle East. It's hard to even take in.
And then finally we turn to Asia where literally millions have died and continue to suffer as a result of US wars, machinations and fomented strife.
Most US soldiers died for nothing more than to enrich the masters of their own society. Many were themselves turned into something less than human in order to fulfill the desires of powerful men sitting in offices in places like the Pentagon, Manhattan and the White House.
Many US soldiers died as invaders, murderers, thieves and criminals.
They are to be pitied, not celebrated.
This Memorial Day let us take up dust and ashes for the millions who have died at the hand of the US Empire, certainly one of the most murderous imperial machines to ever inhabit the globe.
There have been worse and there certainly have been worse to live under. Some are America's closest allies.
There's no doubt that America could be worse but in no way does that justify America's crimes or lessen them.
Like the Christian citizens of Rome or the Jewish exiles in Babylon, our lives are pretty good. We face opposition but that's just the world. We're always going to expect that and if we're faithful, we're promised the gift of suffering. It takes spiritual wisdom and God's grace to understand this.
We're not persecuted at present and yet we have to wrestle with living in a society based on theft and exploitation. The cheap goods we buy come with a human cost and so if we're going to be faithful and truly do all to the glory of God then we are forced to re-think the lives we live and how we should think about money, goods, property and the values of our society.
The soldiers died not for freedom or for some kind of values. They died in order to maintain and expand the power of the ruling class and the Establishment agenda. They killed and died for empire.
They are not to be celebrated, at least not by Christians.
Let us take up dust and ashes for the apostate Church that has called evil good and good evil, that celebrates deeds of murder and the reign of death, the Church that supports the empire, the very power that crushes their brethren in many other lands, enslaves them and poisons them.
Let us lament the fact that the Church puts up the banners of Babylon in its meetings and praises the deeds of those who kill in its name. Let us lament the fact that the Church dares... dares to sing hymns to the glories of its empire and has the audacity to claim (like the Babel builders of old) that all they do is done in God's name and with His blessing. They are little more than hymns to Mars and Jupiter.
Let us lament the celebration of bloodlust and covetousness, an economic and social system that demands and rewards avarice and the crushing of one's neighbour, the system which generates an ethic antithetical to Biblical Christianity and sears the conscience of its adherents.
The Sunday before Memorial Day is a day to stay home. There are very few congregations that won't be engaged in idolatry this Sunday. If you're part of one that is free from this evil, then count yourself blessed.
For the American Church this Sunday is for the most part accursed, Ichabod.
Christo-Americanism is the sin of Jeroboam, it is the establishment of a rival altar, liturgy and oracle that seeks to supplant the true altar. It is all the more dangerous because it purports to represent the true worship and oracular voice of God.
Memorial Day worship is High Place worship, it is to be avoided and condemned as idolatry and a sign of apostasy.
While the culture's decline is to be lamented, the greatest sorrow and frontline in our Adversary's war against us is within the Church itself.