Monday, May 30, 2011

More thoughts on Memorial Day

The parades, concerts, and other activities associated with Memorial Day in the United States can be loosely grouped under what some anthropologists refer to as rites of intensification.  A typical definition of these rites is that they are "rituals intended either to bolster a natural process necessary to survival or to reaffirm the society's commitment to a particular set of values and beliefs" [my emphasis].

What are the "values and beliefs" that we reaffirm on Memorial Day?  To answer this question, we have to make a distinction between folk (or, roughly, emic) and analytic (roughly, etic) ideas.   The folk model answer must include values such as patriotism, freedom, democracy, glorification of military service, the extension of that service to all parts of the world, and, especially, the honoring of those who have lost their lives in that service.  The omnipresent symbol that represents all this is the national flag, visible through the window as I write this, flying in a warm breeze in front of both our neighbor's houses.

But there is a dark side to all this, and the dark side is our national war addiction. We are so addicted to the warm, fuzzy feelings invoked by the parades, the hot dogs and hamburgers and apple pie,  the returning military people surprising their families with an unexpected homecoming, the Skype calls between wives and husbands, and so on, that we are compelled to sacrifice our people and wealth to satisfy this addiction by the almost uninterrupted perpetration of violence in far-off places.  We are not a happy people unless we are at war.

What, you say?  How can this be?  Have a look at Wikipedia's listing of US military operations from 1775 to the present.  Or, if you don't trust Wikipedia, check out this chronicle of military interventions since 1890.

One important thing to notice on both of these listings (there are many others, just Google "us military interventions" is that it really is hard to find a stretch of time lasting more than a year or so when the US has not been engaged militarily, either domestically or internationally. If we focus on just the period between the end of WWI and the start of WWII, we find these :
1919   Honduras
1919   Yugoslavia
1920   Guatemala
1920-21   West Virginia
1922   Turkey
1922-34   China
1924-25   Honduras
1925   Panama
1932   El Salvador
1932   Washington, DC
Several of these, in particular in Guatemala, West Virginia, Honduras, and Panama, involved the use of troops against unionized workers or workers attempting to unionize.  Others involved the suppression of popular revolts against autocratic leaders.

How weak are the folk values of "freedom" and "democracy" in which we are supposedly enculturated.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting... I really like it... Thank you so much...


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