I wish I found these sooner, but they’re good and I want to share.
First, is Will Wilkinson from the Economist (or, at least, I’m told he’s running that blog now):
[Chris Hayes is] not wrong about that. Calling “hero” everyone killed in war, no matter the circumstances of their death, not only helps sustain the ethos of martial glory that keeps young men and women signing up to kill and die for the state, no matter the justice of the cause, but also saps the word of meaning, dishonouring the men and women of exceptional courage and valour actually worthy of the title. The cheapening of “hero” is a symptom of a culture desperate to evade serious moral self-reflection by covering itself in indiscriminate glory for undertaking wars of dubious value. A more confident culture would not react with such hostility to Mr Hayes’ admirable, though cautiously hedged, expression of discomfort with our truly discomfiting habit of numbing ourselves to the reality of often senseless sacrifice with posturing piety and too-easy posthumous praise.
Indeed, the adolescent vehemence of the reaction to Mr Hayes’ mild confession seems to me to underscore the idea that America has become so deranged by war that anyone who ventures to publicly question any element of America’s cultural politics of endless conflict will instantly mobilise indignant hordes who will bear down to silence him.
Chris Hayes touched on a critical and under appreciated point: there is far too much cheerleading for war propagated through obligatory honor of the souls the powers that be send to fight the wars. It does cloud and mask the reality of what is transpiring on the greater moral and humanitarian stage, and does so very much to the detriment of society and the relevant discussion. That is just a fact in my book.
By the same token, the older voices among us, even those of us who grew up with the mess that was Vietnam, still grew up in the halo years of WW II, with the remnants of WW I that preceded it. When I think of Memorial Day, it is under a mental framework cast in those terms, that was still the framework conveyed in the 60?s and, even if lesser, still in the 70?s and 80?s. Vietnam was the aberration, not the norm, for a very long time when considering war and “war heroes”.
And that was me, a kid who mercifully avoided the draft and never served. I think the feelings could, and may well be, even stronger among those who did serve or, like Olivier Knox, who have land and families free today because of the last devotion expended on the beaches of Normandy or Okinawa.
To an older generation, and the differently situated, Memorial Day exists to honor true heroes. American soldiers who died so that you, me, Chris Hayes and everyone else may all have the discussions we do. The fact they gave what they did allows that. And, yes, they ARE heroes.
It is indeed a complex dynamic. Could Chris Hayes have exercised a bit more rhetorical discretion; no question. And he would be wise to not paint it quite as much as he does so primarily in terms of Afghanistan and, presumably, if not mentioned, Iraq (leaving aside Yemen and our other, um, areas of interest/conflict); there is a much larger and older framework, as Hayes himself cogently noted in his lead in.
But move beyond the patina of insensitivity, and Chris Hayes was quite right. We need desperately to unhinge the valor of our troops from the moral squalor of our leaders. Memorial Day may be a touchy time to hear that, but it needs to be said.
Great reads. And well said, both of them.