By Jordan Elgrably
Every year, right before the Memorial Day weekend, I find myself in a quandary: Am I supposed to remember only the American fallen—the soldiers and officers killed in battle around the world? What of the millions of foreign civilians and soldiers our bombs and other munitions have killed since 1945? My thinking here begins with 1945 because that was the year that saw the end of World War II, the deadliest war in history, and the year that the United Nations was founded to secure world peace, yet 1945 proved to be the dawn of the American empire.
Is it right, on Memorial Day, to remember only our own?
Let's go back to the 1950-1953 war between South and North Korea. That was a conflict that cost the lives of over a million Koreans, with the U.S. sustaining 33,686 battle deaths.
In our war with Vietnam, 1955-1975, the Vietnamese government has estimated that some three million civilians and soldiers died. We dropped almost 8 million tons of munitions across Vietnam and neighboring Laos and Cambodia—more bombs than we dropped on Germany and Japan in WW II combined.
According to an article published last year in The World Post, "an estimated 800,000 tons failed to detonate, contaminating around 20 percent of [Vietnam's] land. More than 100,000 people have been killed or injured since 1975, the government says."
So even though the Vietnam war is over, it is still killing thousands of Vietnamese every year.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 150,000 Iraqis died violent deaths as a result of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq between 2003 and 2006.
While the total American death toll from wars between 1945 and today falls below 100,000 troops, the number of people killed in this same period in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq alone (not to mention many other smaller conflicts around the globe) numbers almost five million.
Can you imagine how angry and vengeful we would feel had foreign forces bombed us, murdering nearly five million of our citizens, here on our soil? And yet you can travel to Korea, Vietnam and Iraq and the people will greet you, as an American, with open arms. They will be warm and hospitable, and will tell you that they distinguish between the good American people and the U.S. government.
For me, Memorial Day is a reminder of our empire and its sordid history. Not only do I think of the millions of innocent civilian victims of our aggression, but I also remember our dead, who gave their lives—for what? Which multinational corporations profited while our boys died abroad? Honeywell, GenCorp, Halliburton, GM, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon? Did we really need to send thousands of Americans overseas to fight? Were any of our foreign wars worth the death of a son, a husband, a father or some other family member to those individual families who suffered the loss?
We are raised in this country in a culture of war, cogs in a war economy that is virtually invisible yet inexorable—war never stops, and we maintain over 500 military bases around the world, not to mention the hundreds of bases here at home, each of which costs the taxpayers a half billion dollars per year or more to operate.
Memorial Day is about much more than fallen soldiers. It's about who are we as a nation, and the legacy we leave for our children, and other peoples' children around the world.
This is a day to call for world peace.
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Check out a map about the United States and the Middle East
Jordan Elgrably is the director of the Levantine Cultural Center. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints or official policies of the Levantine Cultural Center.