Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Whom Will We Honor Memorial Day?

The following article by Howard Zinn was originally published in the Washington Post on June 2, 1976. After publication Zinn’s regular column for the newspaper was cancelled.

Howard Zinn

May 30, 2022
Facebook Twitter Share
Howard Zinn in his office

Originally published in the Washington Post, June 2, 1976

Memorial Day will be celebrated as usual, by high-speed collisions of automobiles and bodies strewn on highways and the sound of ambulance sirens throughout the land.

It will also be celebrated by the display of flags, the sound of bugles and drums, by parades and speeches and unthinking applause.

It will be celebrated by giant corporations, which make guns, bombs, fighter planes, aircraft carriers and an endless assortment of military junk and which await the $100 billion in contracts to be approved soon by Congress and the President.

There was a young woman in New Hampshire who refused to allow her husband, killed in Vietnam, to be given a military burial. She rejected the hollow ceremony ordered by those who sent him and 50,000 others to their deaths. Her courage should be cherished on Memorial Day. There were the B52 pilots who refused to fly those last vicious raids of Nixon’s and Kissinger’s war. Have any of the great universities, so quick to give honorary degrees to God-knows-whom, thought to honor those men at this Commencement time, on this Memorial Day?

No politician who voted funds for war, no business contractor for the military, no general who ordered young men into battle, no FBI man who spied on anti-war activities, should be invited to public ceremonies on this sacred day. Let the dead of past wars be honored. Let those who live pledge themselves never to embark on mass slaughter again.

“The shell had his number on it. The blood ran into the ground. . . Where his chest ought to have been they pinned the Congressional Medal, the DSC, the Medaille Militaire, the Belgian Croix de Guerre, the Italian gold medal, The Vitutea Militara sent by Queen Marie of Rumania. All the Washingtonians brought flowers .. Woodrow Wilson brought a bouquet of poppies.”

Those are the concluding lines of John Dos Passos angry novel 1919. Let us honor him on Memorial Day.

And also Thoreau, who went to jail to protest the Mexican War.

And Mark Twain, who denounced our war against the Filipinos at the turn of the century.

And I. F. Stone, who virtually alone among newspaper editors exposed the fraud and brutality of the Korean War.

Let us honor Martin Luther King, who refused the enticements of the White House, and the cautions of associates, and thundered against the war in Vietnam.

Memorial Day should be a day for putting flowers on graves and planting trees. Also, for destroying the weapons of death that endanger us more than they protect us, that waste our resources and threaten our children and grandchildren.

On Memorial Day we should take note that, in the name of “defense,” our taxes have been used to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on a helicopter assault ship called “the biggest floating lemon,” which was accepted by the Navy although it had over 2,000 major defects at the time of its trial cruise.

Meanwhile, there is such a shortage of housing that millions live in dilapidated sections of our cities and millions more are forced to pay high rents or high interest rates on their mortgages. There’s 90 billion for the B1 bomber, but people don’t have money to pay hospital bills.

We must be practical, say those whose practicality has consisted of a war every generation. We mustn’t deplete our defenses. Say those who have depleted our youth, stolen our resources. In the end, it is living people, not corpses, creative energy, not destructive rage, which are our only real defense, not just against other governments trying to kill us, but against our own, also trying to kill us.

Let us not set out, this Memorial Day, on the same old drunken ride to death.

Facebook Twitter Share

Ideas & Debates

A Swiss Trotskyist group marching in the 1950s

The Strange Story of Trotskyism in the Alps

A new book in German tells the story of the Trotskyist movement in Switzerland from 1945 to 1968. It includes the strangest case of infiltration since the founding of the Fourth International.

Nathaniel Flakin

June 23, 2022
Three students marching in front of a sign that reads "On Strike for Mental Health supports"

When It Comes to Gun Violence, Mental Health Matters and the Left Should Fight for It

In the aftermath of the recent wave of mass shootings we need a mental health overhaul and it’s the Left that needs to fight for it.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

June 13, 2022
A graphic image of a landscape with silhouettes of animals and a tree in dark green, with a lighter green background of branches.

Recovering the Legacy of Marxism in the Face of the Ecological Crisis

Does progress require the conquest of nature? Is “humanity” responsible for the climate crisis? What is the relationship between nature and capitalist society? In Marx’s Ecology — newly translated into Spanish for Ediciones IPS — John Bellamy Foster overturns conventional interpretations of Marx and instead offers a rational approach to the environmental crisis. This article presents the prologue to the new Spanish-language edition.

Juan Duarte

June 5, 2022
A young child stands in ankle deep water in front of a metal fence.

Open Letter to a Newborn Child: Why You Were Born on a Burning Planet

I just had my first kid. In 12 or 15 years, they might ask what we were thinking, giving what we knew about climate change. I've written down my thoughts in a letter.

Nathaniel Flakin

May 30, 2022

MOST RECENT

Teachers in NYC Pay Out of Pocket for Abortion. Healthcare Must be Accessible to All

The following is a speech by a public school teacher in NYC against the overturn of Roe v. Wade and in favor of abortion rights for all.

Ali

June 28, 2022

Thousands Protest against G7 Summit in Germany

The leaders of the seven most powerful imperialist countries are meeting in the Alps. These seven men stand for environmental destruction and militarism like no one else. That’s why protests were guaranteed.

Nathaniel Flakin

June 28, 2022

‘We are the First Starbucks Union in Latin America’: Chilean Starbucks Workers Speak

Antonio Paez and Deborath Jofre, President and Secretary of the Starbucks Union in Chile, attended the Labor Notes Conference in Chicago. Here is their speech at the “Workers of the world, unite! Unions abroad take on Amazon, Starbucks, GM, and Google” panel.

Antonio Paez

June 28, 2022

Tens of Thousands Take the Streets in Defiance of Overturn of Roe v. Wade

Following the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in outrage and to demand that abortion remain legal across the country.

Left Voice

June 27, 2022