Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Putting Jones to Shame

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, May 29, 2012 --  

It's tragic how many Americans died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Glorifying these deaths does not serve the country.

When the Reverend Jim Jones led 909 followers and their children to death in Guyana in 1978, it was widely regarded as the largest cult suicide in the history of the world. But measured by the degree of religious conviction and the scale of slaughter, the People's Temple at Jonestown is no match for the cult of military patriotism that currently grips America.

On Sunday evening, thousands of Americans gathered on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol for the National Memorial Day Concert. Among them were large numbers of veterans, their families and, in some cases, their widows. The event was decidedly religious in nature, with patriotic hymns provided by country music signer Trace Adkins and Christian-inspired southern rock band Daugtry.

Before an approaching thunderstorm chased away the crowd, a sermon was delivered by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who praised the troops for their sacrifice and prompted a standing ovation with, "let's give a big American thank you for everything our troops have done for our country."

Nobody spoke of the 800-pound elephant in the room. It was Colin Powell himself, who sealed the deal on the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 with his now infamous speech to the United Nations regarding Saddam Hussein's non-existent biological and chemical weapons programs. After nine years, 4486 Americans are dead from that mistaken war.1

This begs the question: when Americans give the ultimate sacrifice for the pursuit of a meaningless war, have they genuinely helped their country? Is it possible for their sacrifice to be in vain?

For sure, these painful questions are out of sync with spirit of Memorial Day, where Americans rightfully honor those who have served and especially those who have fallen. But when the holiday is over, it is important that Americans be willing to face these issues head-on.

These issues are independent of whether you agree with the politics that sent American forces into combat. Even if you believe a policy was correct at the time, conditions can always change to make a war not worth fighting. In the beginning, Americans overwhelmingly approved of the mission in Afghanistan. But after the mission shifted from hunting Osama bin Laden to propping up a despotic government, Americans rightfully changed their minds. As of last month, even a majority of Republicans said the Afghan war wasn't worth fighting.2 Yet this war has seen the deaths of another 1989 Americans.3

Fortunately, Americans have learned from Vietnam that they must respect returning servicemen and women even if they oppose the war they fight. But in such instances, what is to be made of their service? In dangerous professions like logging, piloting aircraft, and fishing, the dozens of deaths that occur each year are seen simply as personal tragedies. But in the case of military combat deaths, the cult of military patriotism insists there be additional meaning.

The National Memorial Day concert has devolved into a gathering of this cult, preaching that military service is holy, and death in military service is akin to sainthood. This is certainly useful to the military, which must recruit hundreds of thousands of people to sign up each year, just to maintain their numbers. And it probably is of some comfort to the families of the fallen. But does this dogma serve Americans in general? Is it useful to the over 6,000 American servicemen and women who have lost their lives to the cult in the past decade? These are numbers that put the Reverend Jim Jones to shame.

Increasingly, it seems, Americans and their leaders count themselves among the nonbelievers. Only 0.5 percent of Americans have served in uniform over the past decade, a lower percentage than at any time before the Second World War.4 None of the 2012 presidential candidates, including President Barack Obama, have served in combat, and only two of them, Ron Paul and Rick Perry served in the military during peacetime.

As a place of religious freedom, Americans may choose to believe or not to believe in any religion that exists. It is disgraceful, however, when our political leaders use tax dollars to help perpetuate such a deadly cult in the face of their obvious disbelief.


1., Iraq Coalition Military Fatalities By Year, May 29, 2012 (Total US Casualties)

2. Washington Post, Post-ABC News Poll Shows Drop in Republican Support for Afghan War, April 12, 2012

3., Afghanistan Coalition Military Fatalities By Year , May 29, 2012 (Total US Casualties)

4. American Forces Press Service, , Gap BetweenMilitary and Civilians Growing, November 28, 2011