I found Maisel's essay provocative and well-thought-out and felt the need to share it:
I hated the Vietnam War because I knew, even as an inexperienced eighteen-year-old, that it was a completely corrupt affair. I nevertheless enlisted, not to fight in the war but to mark time in my life. Did enlisting make me a hero? Apparently it did since, as soon as you put on a uniform, you are given a halo along with your rifle and everybody back home must pay at least lip service to your new status as “the best and the bravest.” In fact, I only met ordinary guys in the Army, some of whom were drafted, some of whom enlisted, and virtually nothing we did rose past the level of the ordinary, including an ordinary level of drunkenness, whoring, boredom, and stupidity. But it is tiresome to mention this and—as I have never read the Patriot Act—maybe even illegal.
We watched Casablanca again the other night—I am still in love with that movie. At one point, some years ago, I had the idea of doing a complete existential analysis of the movie’s famous lines and, who knows, I might still tackle that project one day. You will remember Rick, in what is generally called his “cynical way,” commenting on how the murdered German couriers, the ones carrying the letters of transport, had, by virtue of getting themselves killed, become “the honored dead.” Is that cynical? Absolutely not: it is not cynical to tell the truth (and very cynical to label a truth-teller a cynic). What would Rick say today in his truthful way? I think we can imagine.
There is nothing to be done today that is the equivalent of Rick and the Inspector strolling off to join the free French and fight the Nazis. Voting isn’t the equivalent; writing this piece isn’t the equivalent; reporting on the war isn’t the equivalent; nothing is the equivalent. During the occupation of Paris, Camus writing essays for and serving as editor of the resistance periodical Combat make an actual difference. But we are in different circumstances, living in a democracy that is also a tyranny, having elected the tyrants and agreeing, as part of our social compact, to allow them to go about their business until another election. Today we have tons of information about the complete corruption of our leaders and nothing to do about it except to wait for some “better November.
I can imagine a Memorial Day very different from our traditional Memorial Day. That different Memorial Day would not turn ordinary men and women in uniform into saints and heroes, would not lump all wars together, as if, simply because we fought them, they must have been virtuous, and would not honor John Wayne—who, naturally, was an adamant draft dodger, just as you would have expected him to be. There would be no parades, no jeeps or hummers, no jets flying overhead. Rather, it would be a day of atonement, each of us atoning for our willingness to collude, and a day of mourning, each of us mourning our peculiar impotence as members of a stable, prosperous democracy. We have an awful lot to lose nowadays—and that is our albatross.
I am not a pacifist. In fact, like you, I am probably a killer at heart. I have no illusions that I have tamed my lizard-and-leopard brain and I have no compunction about using force, as force is a Darwinian necessity. The different Memorial Day that I envision would not be an ode to peace. Rather, it would commemorate the fallen truth-tellers, not the fallen soldiers, and raise to the ranks of the heroic those who spoke out, not those who shot straight. I think that I would prefer there to be no marching at all. Marching is so very easy; I would prefer to see silent sobbing everywhere, in keeping with the gravity of the situation.
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