It was Memorial Day in the States last Monday. Remembering the war dead, but I have a feeling only from the big wars. Go back to the beginning of empire building. The U.S. declared war against Spain to get their hands on the Philippines (600,000 Filipinos died fighting against America for their independence), Puerto Rico, Guam and Cuba. Then the U.S. overthrew Queen Liliuokalani in Hawaii and turned the islands into a Navy base and Dole and Del Monte plantations. Between 1898 and 1934, American soldiers invaded Cuba four times, Nicaragua five times, Honduras seven times, the Dominican Republic four times, Haiti twice (when Haiti was invaded in 1915, 50,000 Haitians were killed), Guatemala once, Panama twice, Mexico three times, Colombia four times.
Then World War I. The American ambassador to England said that the U.S. declared war on Germany because it was “the only way of maintaining our present pre-eminent trade status.” 130, 274 American soldiers died. General Smedly Butler after the war: “Our boys were sent off to die with beautiful ideals painted in front of them. No one told them that dollars and cents were the real reason they were marching off to war to kill and die. … I spent 33 years and 4 months in active military service … And during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”
Cold War: U.S. intervened militarily in foreign countries more than 200 times. Korean War: 53,000 American soldiers dead. Dominican Republic: Americans invade in 1965, 3,000 Dominicans dead. Vietnam, two million people, mostly civilians, die in the Indochina war. Almost 60,000 Americans dead, 300,000 wounded. Lebanon, Grenada., Libya. The first Gulf War: adviser to G.H.W. Bush in Time magazine in May 1990: “Even a dolt understands the principle — we need the oil.”
The events of the last ten years go without saying. A whole new generation of veterans because the guys with the best cigars and luggage wanted more money. Really, when you get down to it, the second world war is the only half-way good excuse for all this American warmongering.
This my uncle on the cover of Life magazine when he was a 23 year old senior at the University of Iowa in 1947, one of 6,000 war veteran students there (photographs are by Margaret Bourke-White). He was a pilot in the war, flew a B-17 Flying Fortress on over 25 missions over Germany and France, according to the information in the magazine. My mother was a teenager during the war but seemed to recollect nothing at all about it. Whenever the mention of her brother came up, she got weepy and only said how different he was after the war, that he didn’t smile much anymore.
The article says that half of all college students are war veterans: “The changes they have brought about are immediately visible in sights like that above — a veteran taking his baby for a walk across the campus. The trailer camps, the Quonset huts, the rows of temporary barracks and the laundry lines at Iowa can be seen on almost any U.S. campus. But the changes go deeper than this. Teachers find themselves dealing with a new kind of student, who is having a real and sobering effect on higher education. The veteran student is poor and hard-working. He has been around enough to make subjects like geography tough to teach. He wants a fast, business-like education and is doing his best to see that he gets it. He is getting better grades than the non-veteran and has forced higher standards on everyone else.
“Three million more veterans have indicated that they will take the educational training offered them under the G.I. Bill of Rights. … Almost half of the veterans would not have been able to come to college without government help. … Sixty-seven per cent had above above-average grades. This surprising fact, borne out at other universities, may have a profound effect on higher education. It is social wastage, educators reason, to have inferior students with money go to college at the expense of superior students without money. They are beginning to advocate a permanent system of federal scholarships for students of high intelligence but low means.”