Since the beginning of the 20th century, some 650,000 Americans have died fighting this country’s many wars. Regardless of political affiliation and ideology, every American ought reverence such selfless sacrifice and understand and share the grief that this tragic loss of life entails. Though those of us who have known war hear the cries of the dying forever in our mind and suffer the pain and loss each day of our lives and need no holiday to remind us, Memorial Day is the occasion our nation sets aside to remember, to grieve and to honor those who have sacrificed their lives on behalf of “freedom.”
Air shows, “exciting” demonstrations of the high tech, billion-dollar implements of war have become an increasingly popular way to “celebrate” Memorial Day in many parts of the country. The Southern Wisconsin Air fest and Missouri’s Salute to Veterans 2010 are just two examples. Attracting thousands, in some cases tens of thousands, these extravaganzas have become prime locations for military recruitment. The Army’s “Strength in Action Tour” regularly exploits such events “entertaining,” “informing” and ultimately motivating young people to enlist. With its enormous budget, Army recruiters set up what is, for all intents and purposes, a mobile military circus and amusement arcade. Passersby, some as young as ten years old, need only provide their contact information into the Army database to receive an array of Army recruitment material and souvenirs – personalized dog tags, T-shirts, hats, footballs etc. Once registered, students are encouraged to become “Army Strong,” that is, participate in interactive physical fitness events such as climbing the “US Army Rock Wall” (“strength of body,” “rock strong”), “perform virtual music” on a stage in front of their peers (“strength to lead”), operate small remote control robotic devices known as Packbots through an obstacle course (“strength of technology”), “pilot” an Apache helicopter flight simulator (“strength to soar”) or “participate in a fully immersive, adrenaline-pumping, highly realistic (Humvee) experience” in which they conduct a “virtual mission,” engage “insurgents” and kill them (“strength of team”).
Sadly, Americans need to be reminded that Memorial Day is not about sales at the mall, barbecues and picnics. Neither is it a time to celebrate militarism, the machinery of war or entice young people, through highly manipulative and deceptive practices, into enlisting in the military. While such spectacles may be exhilarating to some and perhaps suitable for other occasions (perhaps Armed Forces Day or the Fourth of July), they are totally inappropriate and irreverent during the only time of the year set aside for remembering and grieving those who made the ultimate sacrifice, Memorial Day weekend.
Most importantly, it is not about exploiting patriotism and the sacrifices of our young servicemen and women for purposes of commercial marketing and corporate profit. The following is an excerpt from the Bethpage Federal Credit Unions 2009 New York Air Show web site, perhaps the mother of all such “celebrations” of the implements of death and destruction:
If your company would like to go beyond typical marketing … Huge family participation coupled with the extraordinary setting makes the air show at Jones Beach a great opportunity for corporate sponsorship and VIP hospitality. Our participating sponsors link their brand with the exciting, patriotic event as they host their most valued clients, employees, family and friends in a truly first class setting. Hospitality tents lined up along the beachfront offer private beach enclosures and can be tailored to meet each sponsor’s specific marketing aim … The Business Package includes 10 Tickets to the Jones Beach VIP Tent and 4 VIP Parking Passes and you may also hang a small Corporate Banner inside the tent.” Cost: $2000.00. [Emphasis added.]
If the exhilarating and orgasmic air show is not enough, revelers can also celebrate the tenth anniversary of Long Island’s American Air Power Museum. On this Memorial Day weekend 2010, now renamed “Salute to the Legends of Air Power” weekend, for just $35, “you can attend an exclusive event for sponsors, VIPs and Air Show performers. A night of big band music, Warbird calendar pinups, Air Show pilot meet and greet, (view) Warbird and military aircraft, plus a private sunset Warbird flight demonstration … It doesn’t get any better than this.” Well, perhaps it does. For just an additional $425, you can actually fly on a fully restored B17 aircraft, perhaps imagine yourself on a bombing mission over Dresden, Hamburg or Tokyo and about to incinerate millions of innocent civilians.
This blatant commercialization of patriotic sentiment, exploitation of Memorial Day and celebration of the killing instruments of war, demonstrates once again that the primary concern and motivation of banking and corporate executives, the primary sponsors of these spectacles, is profit. Their arrogance, insensitivity and greed is an outrage to anyone who has proudly worn the uniform, loves America and who understands and appreciates the nature of sacrifice and service to country. Most grievously, it is to defile the memory of those young men and women who have lost their lives in war, and an insult to their families who will never again caress their son, daughter, husband or wife … and will never recover from their loss.
All Americans, therefore, who honor the memory and the sacrifices of our fallen brothers and sisters must raise their voices in outrage against this exploitation of Memorial Day and demand that these grotesque spectacles and celebrations of military machinery, commercial marketing and military recruitment be cancelled or rescheduled to another occasion.