Memorial Day Values And Ethics


Many events, stories and trends have collided in the run-up to Memorial Day 2015, which itself illuminates a common theme, and, perhaps, emerging wisdom.

In recent weeks we have seen:

1. The terrorist scourge of ISIS, as many predicted, continuing to expand its power and destructive mission while the U.S. resists actively engaging it.

2. Through the prism of the British elections, the realization that our traditional ally and the nation closest to the U.S. in values, culture and commitment to democratic ideals, has surrendered its role as a world power, with its armed forces soon to be at a diminished level last reached in the 18th Century.

3. The growing national distrust and rejection of local police forces.

4. A resurgence of the debate over the Iraq war, with its related issue of the Obama administration’s premature and disastrous withdrawal of troops from that theater,

5. Reports that the United States is no longer regarded abroad as reliable as an ally and

6. The first credible evidence of an ISIS-related attack in the U.S.

And it’s Memorial Day, which is set aside to honor the Americans who died in foreign wars, and who did so under the impression that they were protecting and strengthening our nation’s values and ideals. Obviously, a large segment of the population, and virtually an entire political party, no longer shares those ideals, nor do they honor the sacrifice this holiday was created to recognize and validate. Hence this, from the Democratic Party’s twitter feed…

The Democrats ‏@TheDemocrats May 23 Memorial Day Weekend SALE. Save 15% when you enter MEMORIALDAY15 at The Democrats ✔ @TheDemocrats Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone!

The Democrats ‏@TheDemocrats May 23
Memorial Day Weekend SALE. Save 15% when you enter MEMORIALDAY15 at The Democrats

Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone!

What’s going on here?

The ethics issues are policing, values, responsibility, and, yes, American exceptionalism.

It has become a cliché to say that the U.S. can’t be the world’s policeman, and the Obama foreign policy is entirely based on that assertion….except that the assertion is now that we won’t be the world’s policeman, so we will make certain that we can’t. In that assertion by Obama, which I would term essentially un-American as well as unwise and unethical, is a rejection of the national ideals that formed the basis for the U.S.’s participation in World War II, the Marshall Plan, the Korean War, and the Cold War, among others. The problem with the assertion is that it ignores salient and irrefutable facts:

  • The world needs a policeman, and is a chaotic and dangerous place without it.
  • In the absence of a policeman, the brutal, Machiavellian, and genocidal and despotic run amuck.
  • The United Nations, created with the world’s consensus that a police force was necessary, is now structured to prevent it from filling that role.
  • Somebody needs to fill that role, and the role must be filled by a nation that is obligated by its values not to seek to abuse its power to impose its will on others for its own enrichment and benefit.
  • The United States, as the only nation formed with the mission of recognizing and upholding basic human rights, remains the only nation qualified to fill that role.

In short, it’s a lousy, dirty, thankless job, but someone has to do it, and there is nobody else that the world, or we, can or should trust to do it  This is the essence of American exceptionalism: that because of our dedication to the values set out in our founding documents, the United States is willing to use its treasure, power, prestige and lives for the benefit of the rest of the world. It is a noble and sacred responsibility entailing many underlying truths that are unpleasant and even unpalatable to many. It means that…

  • “American interests” must be broadly rather than narrowly defined. It is in the interests of the United States for there to be peace, for as many world citizens as possible to be able to achieve their full potential as human beings, and for our nation’s values of reverence for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be observed in as many nations as possible.
  • The military must not only be strong, but the strongest on earth.
  • Maintaining that military strength requires budgetary restraint, a limit to entitlements, control over the debt, refusal to become dependent on foreign creditors, and the determination to make national defense a high priority.
  • Leaders must construct policy with the strengthening of a shared culture as a core objective.
  • Our public and private education should reinforce the core values of personal responsibility, courage, sacrifice, honor, respect for human rights, and opposition to tyranny.
  • The United States must be willing to commit its military and the lives of its soldiers to conflicts abroad even where the U.S. has no immediate economic or security interests, so despots and evil-doers realize that they may face American might when they pursue policies of domination, cruelty and death.
  • If the U.S. does not do so, belief in American ideals around the world will diminish, making the task of despots, terrorists and dictators far easier.
  • In serving as the world’s police, the United States will periodically cause harm, even great harm, abuse its power, and make mistakes, just like all police. The police power cannot exist or function if it is subjected to strict liability.

In almost every respect, the leadership of Barack Obama has been aimed at encouraging the rejection all of these truths, disparaging American exceptionalism, and making it impossible, through anti-military policies and the lack of domestic budget discipline, for the United States to play its traditional role in maintaining world order, all while encouraging the development of a counter-traditional culture in which such activities as wealth creation, self-sufficiency, cultural consensus, accountability, sanctity of property and merit-based employment are undermined.

Many factors laid the foundation for Obama’s efforts and widespread acceptance of them, including the anti-American pseudo-scholarship of cult writers like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, who argue that the United States never acted on anything but narrow self-interest; the mismanagement of the Vietnam and second Iraq wars; the unsavory greed, bigotry and dishonesty of some of the most prominent advocates for American intervention abroad; the increasing strength of pacifist, anti-violence, anti-gun and anti-male voices in government  the news media, academia and politics, and the increasing popularity of socialist dogma, despite its many documented failures abroad.

I suspect, and hope, that as occurred before when the United States retreated inward and embraced isolationism, evidence of the looming disasters such a cultural turn makes inevitable will prompt a sharp change of course before all is lost. Memorial Day helps keep alive that hope, as long as we remember that we are not, as the Democratic Party would have us believe, celebrating sales and the beginning of bikinis, summer surf and lemonade, but rather honoring the Americans who gave their lives so this could be a better, safer, freer, more ethical world, and that their sacrifices, and their values, are still part of what makes the United States of America exceptional.

69 thoughts on “Memorial Day Values And Ethics

  1. Nicely written, Jack, but I think you are writing a recessional to the old America. The dynamic of this nation and its population has shifted to the point where the lazy outnumber the motivated, the craven outnumber the courageous, and increasingly only one side’s voice is listened to or even allowed to speak. It’s the culmination of four decades of identity politics and givevance and outrage becoming a for-profit and very profitable enterprise. It’s also the culmination of a decade-plus of successful demonization of conservatives by cynics who are interested only in getting in power and staying in power with all the benefits that come with that. I am convinced there is no undoing this, and in the next decade the US will no longer be a world power. But a good chunk of the population will get lots of free stuff the rest of the population pays for.

  2. In Canada, we have something called the Good Samaritan Law, and while it deals with people with First Aid training, there are parallels.

    Under the good Samaritan law, anyone who has emergency first aid training (and because a portion of our workforce is required to have that training, it’s not as uncommon as you might think) is unable to face legal liability for any injuries as a result of administering first aid. The idea was to not give people a disincentive to help people out in an emergency.

    There’s also a provision that you aren’t required to give that first aid (unless you’re in Quebec, but they don’t count) UNLESS you have already started administering first aid. The idea behind that was that if someone who was able to administer first aid came across the situation and you were already assisting, then they would be more likely to walk away, and if you walked away, you would have deprived the injured person the other person’s first aid.

    I agree that the world needs a police force. We’re too worldly for there not to be. Things that happen cause ripples felt around the world. And Team America was there first… I don’t know who else there would have been. Russia? France? China? Who else is willing to take that role on now? Or do we just let sections of the world burn?

  3. I’m not sure about your analysis of the recent British election and the inevitable reduction of it’s armed forces to a 18th Century level. The wild card is Nigel Farage whose positions sound like Ted Cruz. Also the backbencher Conservatives are angry about proposed further reductions in the armed forces budget. So the USA may not have to be the sole world’s policeman.

  4. Do keep in mind that it took the Japanese to shock us out of the isolationism in the last major conflagration. Just as it took a guy who sold HATS for a living to start us on the road of limited warfare, with the goal of forcing negotiations for a political settlement. Remember every war we have fought since WWII. Our military has consistently given us military superiority and/or victories that we have consistently pissed away at the negotiating table. I bluntly see no reason to expect that to change in the future.

          • Jeez, I hope not. The comment is wrong factually and philosophically.

            1.Sparta, officially Sparti (Greek: Σπάρτη, Spártī) is, as it was, a city in Laconia, Greece, lying at the site of ancient Sparta. The municipality population in 2011 was 35,259.
            2. My grandmother was from Sparta. She was under the impression that it was still there.
            3. It is Greece that is falling apart, and Sparta is not the problem.
            4. Unless I read Orrin’s meaning incorrectly, it is the equivalent of “Better Red than dead.”
            5. Athens was mighty grateful for the Spartans when it wasn’t fighting with it.

        • Actually, it isn’t. It just isn’t the bastion of militaristic society that it once was. And note that it was Sparta that defended Thermopylae, not Athens.

          • You’re right about Sparta. The city of Espartikos is still very much in existence. I met a guy from there in Houston once. You could tell that he took much personal pride in being from that remarkable city!

            However, don’t discount the Athenian contribution to Thermopylae. The Athenian Navy under Thermistocles (?) destroyed a much larger Persian force that was preparing to launch an amphibious invasion behind the Spartan position. Athens did its part in the battle.

            • My impression of the people from there is that they are all aware of the history and once-greatness of Sparta. Themistocles was, indeed, a hero of that war against Xerxes, but Athens did not have the troops to send to the pass, primarily because of the commitment to their Navy. Good thing, too, since that Navy was largely responsible for destroying Xerxes’s supply lines after Leonidas fixed his Army at the pass. Regrettably, he still managed to burn Athens, but she came back with a vengeance.

                • It sucks to be Xerxes. Did you by any chance see the two movies about that war; 300 and 300:Rise Of An Empire? Both hilarious and as wildly inaccurate as only a comic-book can be, but fun.

                  • I saw “300”, all right. Sure, it was a comic book come to life and inaccurate, but damned entertaining beyond that. Robert Sandoval (?) should have gotten an award for best supporting character for his portrayal of the “somewhat” depraved emperor. The Iranian government came unglued over that film!

    • This ranks among the world’s dumbest analogies:

      Sparta maintained it’s entire ethnically Doric male population as a military force to keep the original natives in a state of servitude. It became a self-serving and entirely undeconstructible system short of devastating war, much like the antebellum South… It’s “military”, that is to say, it’s ruling class, existed to keep the slaves in line and “corrupting” democratic ideals from other city-states in check.

      The American military does not exist for any of these reasons unless you adopt the outright leftist lies that rely on anarcho-communist definitions.

    • However, if by “spartan”, you mean “having great courage and discipline”, then by all means, let us live a “Spartan” existence…

      If however you mean live a “simple, frugal” existence? So what? Let’s cut spending where IT IS NOT A RIGHT for someone to have someone else’s money…

  5. “Leading from behind.” Hahahahaha. What a joke.

    But none of this is an accident. Obama is, among other things, an anti-colonialist. He thinks a neutered U.S. is just what the doctor ordered. He should have made Noam Chomsky his Secretary of State, you know, the kind of guy who thinks the U.S. is the only country in the world that acts in its own self-interest and that our self-declared enemies are actually as pure as the driven snow. At this point, it’s just a matter of how much permanent harm he can do in the time he has left.

  6. Jack, this is an excellent discussion to be having right now.

    I am officially “coming out” as truly ambivalent about all of this. Officially a pacifist, I am also a pragmatist about America policing the world. We MUST do it, and we must do it for all of the values you mention and on which the country was founded. I think that we have allowed America’s “interests” to compromise these values as we act on them. If we engage in policing the world, it can’t be for ANYthing other than protecting people and defeating “evil,” however it is manifested. If America directly benefits from our military involvement, fine and dandy, but that can’t be what motivates the original decision to engage, nor later strategy. We also need to ensure that we entrust the decisions about who/what is evil to intelligent, ethical, objective people. I haven’t seen anyone in the Administration or Congress in decades to whom I could point as good candidates for that job. I am cynical about politicians because they all seem to be more interested in the political game than they are in being true statesmen, even if they might have started out that way. I believe that politics, as we know it today, corrupts.

    But I digress. I believe in promoting the ideals of true pacifism as a means toward changing individual hearts minds. It is not a viable policy for a country, though. I believe that we are bound by higher ideals to police the world in the meantime, until all individuals become committed to peace. Of course, that’s a pipe dream and likely won’t happen short of some global catastrophe that “brings the world together.” I can dream, can’t I?

    I’m a bleeding-heart Democrat, but I totally support a well funded AND well deployed military. Not sure that we can pull either of those off given the government’s isolationist trends and the loss of our national moral compass.

      • Thanks, but…. There are lots of great comments here. I appreciate the compliment, but I absolve you from holding to it as COTD.

    • Unfortunately prinicipled peaceful people are few and far between, too often peace or pacifism are used as moral gloss by the isolationist or the cynical or the anarchist. The few I do know are mostly dreamers, and, as you seem to recognize, utopian pacifism really isn’t a viable national policy, unless some huge neighbor has your back, a la Costa Rica, or you are so isolated from the rest of the world that you frankly don’t matter, a la New Zealand. It’s also not an ethical policy on that level, since in practice it enables and emboldens the would-be tyrants and bullies, as we all should remember from the history between the World Wars.

      Someone asked me once “who died and left the US in charge anyway?” I reply that the other empires died and left us in charge. The UK used to keep the sea lanes open, France used to keep an eye on North Africa, Germany used to keep Russia out of Europe, Austria-Hungary used to police the Balkans, the Ottomans used to keep Muslim fundamentalism in its place. All that went away with the world wars when two of those empires were annihilated and the others rendered bankrupt. So it fell to us to step in and handle these problems. Sometimes we’ve done it well, sometimes not, but, as with the world wars, we have always shown ourselves easily angered but easily tired and excellent at winning the war and losing the peace, just setting ourselves up for the next set of problems, by which time the political and military leaders from the last set are comfortably retired.

      In the past the US has always bounced back from the soul-searching isolationist times that followed this pattern because it had to. Once an enemy went too far, we had to take action, and the time for discussion and soul-searching was over. However, in the world wars, Korea, the Cold War, and the War on Terror we’ve also had the moral, the economic,and the industrial/military capability to bounce back. With the population divided against itself every possible way, a distrust of authority not seen since Viet Nam, an economy that is still sluggish and without a lot of hope of turning a significant corner, a lot of crucial military items like the A-10 going out of service with no replacement ready yet, and a military that’s not just drawing down from wartime levels but being systematically dismantled to a level where taking quick and decisive action won’t be possible, I question whether a bounce will be possible in time to defeat the next big threat, or possible at all. Most have never even heard of the expedition into Russia in the aftermath of WWI to try to help the “Whites” defeat the “Red” Bolsheviks. It failed miserably, in no small part because America was tired of fighting after WWI and not interested in getting bogged down in another war. So we withdrew home and “returned to normalcy” under Harding. I’m not going to recap everything that came after that, but, as you should know, it took 70 years for that threat to finally collapse, and the suffering during those 70 years was immeasurable. The next threat is coming from the Middle East and is going to be worse in every way, not the least because we’ll be dealing with fanatics who don’t care if they die as long as they take the other side down with them. We can’t afford another 70 years with a threat like that around.

      There is nothing ethical about dressing up cowardice and incompetence with the moral gloss of peace, or pretending there is nothing to fear when in fact there is a lot to fear, its just not obvious yet. More than a few great powers have passed from the scene when their leaders and their people simply stopped giving a damn or motivating themselves to deal with problems. I hope we’re not headed there.

      • “I question whether a bounce will be possible in time to defeat the next big threat, or possible at all.”

        Of course it will…at least external threats. External threats capable of rising to the level of becoming an existential threat, don’t just appear overnight. Though Japan surprised us at Pearl Harbor, we knew culturally, they were a threat because they’d spent the previous decade expanding and growing.

        America is too vast to be defeated in on insurmountable surprise attack from without. The only danger we face would be internal.

        • Maybe so, but I think if the other side made enough of a devastating first move, we would be castrated abroad, like, sending John Kerry to sign on the dotted line dividing Iraq into the Islamic Emirate of al-Iraq and provinces to be ceded to Iran.

      • I’m a pacifist. But “There can be NO peace without Victory”

        There can be no Victory, without killing enough bad people to make the rest of the bad people quit fighting.

  7. Oh, and I forgot my original reason for posting. It really depresses me to see what Memorial Day has become. As part of my job, I was stuck on Sunday and Monday as the staff member responsible for our booths at a community “festival.” The festival did include a service of remembrance at the town’s memorial to the fallen, with speeches and a military musical group. But I would venture to guess that the vast majority of people attending the “festival” either knew nothing about that or just didn’t care. This community event is an important opportunity for us to engage the members of the community and help to market our private school. It really is. A worthy organization, The Rotary Club, sponsors this event. But if there were no event, I wouldn’t need to be there. Instead, I could have been down at Arlington National Cemetery visiting the grave of my nephew who died in Iraq in 2007, and the graves of Jack’s parents (which is directly across the street in ANC from where my nephew is buried), and other graves of heroes I have known. Instead of recruiting volunteers to help at the booths, I could have helped recruit volunteers for the Scouts who were down at ANC, placing roses on each grave and greeting family members of the fallen. The original concept of Memorial Day has been vastly reduced in the national consciousness to the day that “kicks off summer.” Frankly, most of our national holidays have lost much of their original attention due to them being “days off” from work, where people just take it as a one-day vacation. Heck, we’ve even turned most of them into commercial opportunities for “Memorial Day Sales,” whether or not it comes from the Democrats (I am ashamed) or just the department stores, etc. Sad. Our human spirit and souls have been diminished.

  8. Like Patrice, I’ll admit to being ambivalent about it; as a policeman, the USA can and has done some great good (particularly in Europe and the richer parts of East Asia; heck, I might not even exist had the USA had let Mao take Taiwan), but it’s also often bungled up pretty badly and even violated its own values regarding democracy (Latin America comes to mind, and even the relative success stories of Taiwan and South Korea involved making more than a few deals with the devil). That being said, I think a discussion vitally missing when we discuss being a world policeman is reconstruction/development after we storm the place. It’s not just about whether we are willing to bear the necessary cost, but what kind of society we are helping to build/rebuild after the fact, and how to maintain the integrity of our values while doing so (part of the reason why we remember WWII so fondly is not just because we beat fascism, but that, through all the various moral compromises and missteps, we helped to make both our Western allies AND former foes better places to live in than they ever had been in the past). I think one of the reasons Americans are becoming cynical about US power is because even though we’ve been toppling nasties like the Taliban and Saddam, their replacements have not been nearly the same caliber as, say, the post-war European and Japanese leaders were.

    • Like others have alluded to, our malaise also has to do with the increasing lack of confidence in whether the “American Way” even works for Americans. Whatever you think of the New Deal on a practical level, the ideals behind it did help give an alluring guiding vision for what post-war societies were going to look like in the places we were intervening in (Johnson tried something similar, but couldn’t quite pull off what FDR and Truman did). I think the next president, regardless of his/her economic ideology, is ultimately going to have to address this issue of the “good life” on not just a domestic level, but an international one as well, if s/he is going to get America somewhere past this Keystone Kop phase.

      tdlr: Since being world cop is often going to entail barging into proverbial houses and breaking/hurting things/people we’d rather not, we’d better make sure we as a people figure out a basic template for what a good reconstruction/compensation plan afterwards should be like.

      • Also, apologies for the blabbering, but this topic has some semi-personal import for me, given that, as hinted above, my parents’ homeland saw both the good and bad sides of American interventionism (even if I think the balance was good in the end).

  9. A few random comments:

    It’s my understanding that Roosevelt conditioned the U.S.’s coming to the U.K.’s aid at the beginning of WWII upon Churchill agreeing to dismantle the British Empire asap after the war. “Be careful what you wish for, FDR,” might seem appropriate.

    I was in Sydney, Australia during the height of the Iraq War. An Aussie woman was irked when she found out I was an American rather than a Canadian (not to demean what the Canadians did in WWII), as she’d hoped. “Don’t like Americans, huh?” I asked. She kind of mumbled around. I couldn’t help saying, “Well, I guess if McArthur and the U.S. Military hadn’t run the Japanese out of this part of the world, I suppose we’d be having this conversation in Japanese, wouldn’t we? Who’d you rather have running the world? The Russians? The Chinese?”

    I’m in Holland, but ran across an article on about a U.S. Military cemetery in Holland near the German border. Over 18,000 dead kids all in rows. Evidently the kids killed in Germany were brought back to the Netherlands for burial rather than being buried on German soil. Anyway, the story was about Dutch families that wait on a waiting list to take care of individual graves, place flowers, etc. since the bulk of the maintenance is done by employees. These people are still grateful for the U.S. soldiers freeing them from the NAZIs, almost four generations after the fact.

    Re: Pacifists. Why don’t they go badger the bad guys instead of staying at home and screaming at the choir? Why not talk to ISIL in Syria or Iraq rather than demonstrating somewhere in Oakland or Brooklyn?

    • Those big American cemeteries in Europe- from both World Wars- stand as a reminder to those people of the sacrifice that we- a people from across the ocean- made on their behalf. All we ever asked of them in return was a little land on which to bury our dead. I only hope our graves don’t meet the same fate as those of the British Imperial troops in Libya- a nation that they died to set free.

      • The French did deface a UK war cemetery with a message to the effect of “come collect your garbage, it is fouling our soil” in the run-up to the Iraq War, so defacement is completely a possibility.

        • Those British boys died in the millions to keep their damn country free… only to have the French squander it away. And now they “foul their soil”? And those murderous Moslem invaders don’t?? The French had their guts knocked out of them in World War II and never recovered.

          • France ceased to be a great power with their defeat in WW2 and they resent it. Of course they resented that GWB and Tony Blair were going to go into Iraq without getting a permission slip from the UN first, and a few high spirited citizens decided to express this by writing insults about the “Yankees” and “Rosbifs” on a war cemetery. It’s only by quirk of fate that they picked one where no Americans were buried. Of course there’s also the fact that Jacques Chirac not only tried to stop the alliance, but tried to mobilize the world against us in the UN. Freedom fries, anyone?

    • Because few pacifists are actual pacifists. Most are anti-Americans or anarchists or Republican-haters who buffed up with pacifist moral gloss. Do you remember the huge demonstrations when Clinton fought an undeclared war in the Balkans or when Obama took aggressive action against Libya without informing Congress? Neither do I.

    • “It’s my understanding that Roosevelt conditioned the U.S.’s coming to the U.K.’s aid at the beginning of WWII upon Churchill agreeing to dismantle the British Empire asap after the war.”

      Is that accurate?

      I know we certainly snookered the Brits out of the Western Hemisphere naval stations…

      • I done seen it on the TEE-vee…

        It was a documentary about Churchill and Roosevelt secretly meeting on a warship off of Nova Scotia. Churchill sailed over and Roosevelt went out to meet him. As I recall, the documentary showed a typed memorandum of understanding regarding the terms of the deal. The documentary was done by PBS or some outfit like that that is otherwise fully committed to burnishing FDR’s halo so I doubt the document and the story were made up.

        I’m not a historian but there’s probably a commenter out there who’s expert on early WWII history who can confirm or refute this.

        • As I understand it, their meeting in Argentia, Newfoundland (not Nova Scotia!) was to affirm the terms of the Lend Lease agreement and to agree that, should America enter the war openly, Europe would be the top priority over Japan. Argentia was chosen because it would become one of America’s biggest bases in the hemisphere beyond U.S. boundaries.

  10. Don’t you remember the last time Police Officer America tried to apprehend a dark skinned person for violating the rules? He resisted arrest and…well…

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