Memorial Day: Honor the Fallen by Ending Wars

During the summer of 2018 my family and I were passing through Oklahoma. We were going home to central Texas from a family camp where my wife had been both a camper and counselor growing up. It was a great week. Instead of driving through McDonalds, we decided to get a real meal from a sit-down restaurant. Not only did the town of McAlister have a Chili’s, but we also had a coupon for free queso, so I was sold!

The waitress was sweet from the beginning and melted at the sight of our three beautiful kids. My Son was still a baby and was near peak cuteness. Towards the end of the meal, it came out that I was a Navy Vet, Submarines, Ohio-class. She perked up and said, "My Son was on one of those!"

"Oh, cool." I exclaimed. "What’s his rate (job) – or is he an officer?"

"No, he was special forces."

"So an SSGN, I’ll guess the Michigan?"

"That was it!" She said.

SSGNs are the ones that carry boatloads (pun intended) of Tomahawk missiles and are also capable of launching special forces while still submerged.

She then went through his story about how he later volunteered to go to Afghanistan. Up to this point both her demeanor and the language used seemed to suggest that he was still serving. But then I unintentionally flushed it out.

"He was killed is 2011 in Afghanistan." She said calmly.

What do you say except, "I’m so sorry to hear that…"

We both handled it well, no one cried, and I tipped very well. Then as I was buckling my baby son into his car seat, checking the straps tight and chest-clip properly placed, I started getting angry thinking about the corrupt warmongers in DC that got the waitress’s son killed.

When he died, the obviously failed war was already more than a decade old. After ten years of war, Ron Paul predicted that if we didn’t withdraw, the war would last another ten years. It turns out he was exactly right (again) and if they had listened to Paul, her son would still be alive. But that didn’t happen. The US war machine would continue pumping trillions of dollars (yes, trillions) and thousands of lives into Afghanistan in order to ultimately replace the Taliban with the Taliban. And they intentionally and knowingly lied to us time and again. In a healthy democracy, the report of those lies would have been the top news for years. Nationally televised hearings, shameful resignations, and even prison sentences would have been dished out. None of that happened, and to the immense frustration of the small anti-war, anti-corruption crowd, no one even seemed to care.

After the embarrassing withdrawal, the war lobby immediately spouted insane claims that Al-Qaeda and ISIS were going to rise up and attack America if we didn’t start dropping more bombs on Afghanistan. These think-tank "experts" are often funded directly from weapons manufacturers and foreign governments like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and Israel. They don’t even hide it, it’s publicly reported! They spend tens of millions of dollars a year funding "experts" to get on CNN, ABC, FOX, and NBC to tell you that endless war is necessary to keep you safe. It’s all so obviously corrupt, dumb, and unnecessary.

It seems many Americans are moved – rightly, of course – on Memorial Day. It’s fine to get emotionally charged thinking about all the brave men and women who gave their lives in service to our country over the years. Here’s the thing though, our emotion on Memorial Day these past years should be righteous anger.

I want to be clear: we should absolutely honor the waitress’s son. He was surely heroic and honorable. But we should be equally clear: he did not give his life for our freedom. His death had absolutely zero – zero – effect on protecting our liberty or way of life. This wasn’t his fault, but rather the fault of politicians who kept prolonging the war which sent him there in the first place. The truth is important. Denying this will get more waitresses’ sons killed.

As I finished buckling my son up, I told him in my head, "If anyone ever tries to kill you, I’d kill them."

So on the way home, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those Taliban fighters used to be normal men who simply wanted to be left alone. How many of them had families killed directly or indirectly by the war? Maybe killed by the disastrous drone war program? I couldn’t imagine fighting in a war like that. During my service, I was (relatively) safely tucked away in a submerged metal tube sleeping between intercontinental nuclear ballistic missiles, but I can at least attempt to have some basic human compassion and understanding for men put into that situation. If a foreign government drone bombed my family, I could at least understand the desire to join the opposition.

When the U.S. Afghan War was reaching its 18th year back in 2018, imagine trying to explain to a 15-year-old Pashtun-speaking shepherd boy in the middle of Afghanistan why the US had to bomb his country for an attack carried out by a bunch of rich, well-educated Arabs on the other side of the world 3 years before he was born. Imagine trying to explain that! Is it "for both of our freedoms?" Should he seriously be expected to buy that? He might rightly point out: my family doesn’t like them, but the Taliban never even attacked America.

The US empire is nearly $32 trillion dollars in debt. Our central bank is printing unfathomable amounts of money. Instead of curbing spending, congress is continually expanding spending and expanding its power. The corruption is more obvious, and the propaganda is more brazen than ever before. Sanity is called extremism and suggesting peace is called treason or gets you labeled a "Putin puppet." But I guess Truth is treason in an empire of lies.

And that empire is in decline.

All around the world, we’re finally seeing Washington’s self-proclaimed hegemony crack as foreign countries are either getting fed up with being bullied or finally realizing Washington isn’t good for all its promises. In the Middle East, the Saudis let China make a peace deal with Iran for them. The UAE traded energy in the yuan, threatening the petrodollar, and they too are normalizing relations with Iran. The Saudis have also openly said they’re open to trading oil in other currencies. It appears that the Middle East has grown weary of US-backed wars. Syria has been welcomed back into the Arab League with Assad still at the helm. (US troops are still in Syria by the way). Comments from China’s foreign minister were, "In fact, it is because of the US pressure and sanctions that Syria has suffered 12 years of war with related catastrophic consequences lasting until now… Syria’s return to the Arab League once again proves that when the shadow of the US shrinks, the light of peace spreads." And if you don’t believe him, at one point in Syria, the US Department of Defense backed groups and CIA backed groups were killing each other. It turns out dumping hundreds of billions of dollars in money, weapons, and intelligence into conflicts to multiple different factions with empty promises of success doesn’t tend to promote peace, and countries all over the world are figuring this out.

Even Israel has been willing to push back against the White House, while in Europe, despite the official narrative, cracks in NATO are clearly manifesting themselves and France’s Macron plainly said they don’t want to get caught up in US caused crisis that aren’t even theirs. Germany has made similar comments. Same with Hungary.

This just scratches the surface of Washington losing its self-perceived control over international financial, military, and political matters. This hasn’t stopped the special interests, though. Today, another honeypot is in the sights of the military industrial complex. In 2022, congressionally approved aid to Ukraine from the US alone reached over $100 billion – more than Russia spends on its military annually. Despite this, Ukraine is losing, but that’s never stopped the ideologues in Washington in their resolve. Washington’s policy makers are so courageous they’re willing to fight to the last Ukrainian soldier. Just like their corruption, they don’t even hide it. About a year ago, neo-con Dan Crenshaw tweeted when challenged about funding the war, "Yeah, because investing in the destruction of our adversary’s military, without losing a single American troop, strikes me as a good idea. You should feel the same." That’s right Dan, it has only cost us 100ish billion dollars and over 100,000 dead Ukrainians. A steal by DC’s standards – a rounding error to the empire. I’ve been shocked to see people I know well and respect say essentially the exact same thing.

And now to further escalate things, Biden has signed off on sending F-16s to Ukraine. Anyone who has trained with extremely complex military equipment will tell you that a few months will hardly make any Ukrainian pilots they have left proficient and effective – especially when their air defense is on its last leg. Even Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall admitted the F-16s are "not going to be a dramatic game-changer, as far as I’m concerned, for their total military capabilities." It is, however, another dangerous escalation with a country that has thousands of nuclear weapons.

For anyone actually paying attention, Ukraine is getting wrecked. Russia’s goal now is essentially to demilitarize Ukraine – which means destroying the Ukrainian military as long as the West keeps paying them to go fight and die in the east. Despite the mainstream narrative, this is pretty obvious and the establishment occasionally admits it. And of course, the latest leaks show this too.

This outcome was predictable. Back in 2015 Dr. John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago summed up the West’s actions in Ukraine (which included a coup) by saying, "The West is leading Ukraine down the primrose path, and the end result is Ukraine is going to get wrecked." If you have the time, listen to his 2015 speech here.

If you had a nickel for every time Washington armed, funded, and supported a foreign group to fight a government they didn’t like just to get a boatload of people killed and still lose, you’d have more nickels than you’d think: there’s the Shia Iraqis, the Sunni Iraqis, the FSA groups in Syria, the Kurds (multiple times in both Iraq and Syria), and of course there’s the Afghans. That’s just off the top of my head and only the Middle East.

And for the record I don’t like Putin. I don’t support Russia’s war. Even with the decades of provocations from the West (follow that link) he had plenty of realistic options to choose nonviolent ways to avoid a war. The truth is I don’t respect anyone involved, whether its Putin, Zelensky, or Biden. They all work for the same guy: the god of war. That god has already produced so much death. Potentially hundreds of thousands of young men just like the waitress’s son are now dead. Those recent leaks suggested there are at least 350,000 casualties dead or injured between the two countries. If NATO gets involved, then that number could easily get dwarfed – especially if it goes nuclear. Literally everyone you know could die, and when it comes to nuclear weapons it’s hard to be overly dramatic; it absolutely could happen in a war between the US and Russia…or China for that matter. When my veteran humor comes out, I often quip "tens of millions of people haven’t died in a war in Europe recently and it really shows in our governments."

We all love Memorial Day, but no one loves Memorial Day more than weapons manufacturers and foreign governments. It’s time to take it back. We should absolutely honor those who have fallen in battle, but we need to be honest. We need to cognitively stop conflating support for the troops with support for Washington’s wars. Opposing the wars, including potential war with Russia and China, is supporting the troops. The message should be simple: stop abusing our courageous young men and women! Stop risking their lives for causes that actually make us less safe by creating a smoldering hatred towards the US in nations on the other side of the world because of our politicians’ and generals’ delusional sense of exceptionalism and superiority.

If we want to honor the waitress’s son, end the wars, withdraw the troops, end the unlimited foreign aid and foreign meddling which is currently flirting with cataclysmic nuclear world war, slash the infinitely growing budget which never benefits the troops, but rather the crony military contractors and foreign governments. Stop the US backed coups of democratically elected governments. Stop arming terrorists because they’ll promise to fight governments the empire doesn’t like. Abolish the Patriot Act. Stop spying on our own citizens. Free our markets, because where goods cross borders armies do not. Defend the National Guard, preventing DC from stealing them from home and sending them overseas. And of course: bring our troops home.

Freedom works! We should try out more freedom again and maybe, just maybe, we can right this ship before it sinks. As Ron Paul always pointed out, we can either bring our spending and money-printing addiction back to sane levels or have reality dictate it for us when the empire collapses and the troops are forced to come home. But truly, truly, if it’s between financial collapse and a nuclear WWIII, I’ll take my depression now, please!

Jonathan Grotefendt was a 1st Class Petty Officer, Nuclear-Trained Electrician’s Mate on the USS Nevada, an Ohio-Class Submarine. After his 6 years in the Navy, he moved his family to Central Texas where they built a house and homeschool their 4 beautiful children.