Memorial Day - Howard Zinn  5/27/01
Whom Will We Honor Memorial Day?  by Howard Zinn, 1976  from the Zinn Reader
Memorial Day will be celebrated ... by the usual betrayal of the dead, by
the hypocritical patriotism of the politicians and contractors preparing for
more wars, more graves to receive more flowers on future Memorial Days. The
memory of the dead deserves a different dedication. To peace, to defiance of
In 1974, I was invited by Tom Winship, the editor of the Boston Globe, who
had been bold enough in 1971 to print part of the top secret Pentagon Papers
on the history of the Vietnam War, to write a bi-weekly column for the op-ed
page of the newspaper. I did that for about a year and  a half. The column
below appeared June 2, 1976, in connection with that year's Memorial Day.
After it appeared, my column was canceled.

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 he 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
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
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
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

"The road to Peace goes through a difficult territory called Trust and