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Moral Injury For Memorial Day

My garden is blooming red, white, and blue for Memorial Day though the red is poppies, a symbol reminiscent of the blood soaked fields of Europe after WWI. The paperwhites remind me of my grandmother who would force bulbs to bloom indoors each year to get through mud season, and they also remind me of the older version of Memorial Day which was more memorial in general and less of a frenzy of patriotism. I now know the holiday originated from ceremonies a Black community held to remember fallen soldiers after the civil war that seems to have involved more flowers than flags.

The blue is provided by forget-me-nots and who could forget the people once near and dear to us now departed?

It is the living dead, the veterans struggling with moral injury, who say year after year how hard this day is for them. The more unjust our imperial wars seem, the fewer people are willing to participate (about 9% these day), and the harder the narrative machine grinds out flags and gushy rhetoric thanking veterans who often don’t wish to be thanked.

Moral injury is often misdiagnosed as PTSD, which is a real injury from wars also but different being about fight-or-flight alarms your brain can’t turn off. Moral injury is about the images burned into your memory of innocents, often children, suffering from the actions of your side who you can no longer see as the good guys. It’s about forgiving yourself for the unforgivable, and on top of it putting up with a culture that insists on glorifying the most shameful episodes of your life.

Cannon fodder is, by definition, of little interest to the empire managers who use bodies to further their business ambitions.

Each year I put flowers on my family gravesite in a nearby town. Not buried there is my maternal grandfather, a conscript sent into Nagasaki after the nuclear bombing there. Not an affluent man, he refused his G.I. benefits on the grounds that he didn’t want anything from a government capable of that level of evil. 

My other grandfather is buried nearby. He is the one who told his son who was keen to enlist to fight communism in Korea, Don’t believe them when they say the next war is a good one. There is no such thing. Of course my father went anyway but missed seeing combat, and he passed his father’s observation down through the generations. No one has enlisted since.

This does not stop the local veterans organization from putting a flag in a veteran medallion holder on my younger brother’s grave each year. Likely they’re confusing him with our grandfather due to sharing a first name. I’ve asked them to stop but every year they don’t, and every year I remove all the flags from my ancestors and sibling’s graves.

I even remove the flag from my grandfather’s grandfather’s grave, a veteran of the civil war who shot himself, albeit years later. I’m the only one keeping up the old family graves at this point, so I figure it’s my call.

I put out pots of geraniums and those remind me of my grandmother, too. A white lilac the family planted for my mother is in bloom for Memorial Day, fragrant and ephemeral as life. I’ll march with the peace contingent in a parade tomorrow that required legal action to allow any peace messages at all. 

Memorial Day, 2015, Topsham-Brunswick parade

The U.S. as a whole seems to be suffering from moral injury as we destroy country after country in our lust for imperial spoils. Diseases of despair like suicide, depression, and substance use disorders including death by overdose continue to climb. No amount of glorious flag waving changes any of that.

There’s a lot to remember on Memorial Day. 

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