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By Bill Shunas

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Members and friends of VVAW will soon be attending Memorial Day ceremonies, much as we have been doing for over thirty years. At these ceremonies, as well as on Veterans Day, we have honored the dead of our wars. We have honored the veteran and have been advocates for better care for veterans. We have used these occasions to speak out against unjust wars which needlessly create more memorials and more veterans.

Another reason we hold ceremonies on Memorial Day is because the memory of those who never made it back alive is used to try to justify participation in unjust wars. We point this out and oppose it. In wars of longer duration, such as Vietnam or the Gulf, how many times have the politicians and hawks urged us on so that those who already died "won?t have died in vain?"

They try to obscure the fact that the war has no good purpose. They appeal to a desire for retribution and help ensure that more will die in vain. They use veterans too. In these wars as well as any shorter military actions, you?re likely to see TV images or newspaper photos of war-supporting vets saluting the flag. This is a call from those who have gone before to urge on the new generation to fight.

It is this use of war dead and veterans to promote the new war, or to promote trust in the political leadership, that we in VVAW have long opposed. They would not have you question whether a war or military police action is just. Instead they play on the emotions and respect the American people have for veterans and soldiers who died. We say this is a bogus use of that respect.

Those leaders (most of whom are not veterans) who are responsible for our wars always evoke these emotions. In essence, this misuse of memory is showing disrespect for the dead. If the dead soldier could talk, quite likely he would be the last to promote war, especially unjust war. Such a war means death, dismemberment and agony for no good reason, only for the advantage of the few. This is the ultimate disrespect for the dead.

Same goes for the victims of 9/11. That was an act of war, and while the victims were (mostly) civilians, they have been looked upon as one would look upon those who died at Khe Sanh or the Chosin Reservoir or Iwo Jima or the Somme. It is in their name that we — well, what do we do? We invade Iraq which had no link to al-Qaeda, the perpetrator of 9/11. We come to find out that long before 9/11 the Bush administration had their eyes on Iraq and that 9/11 was just an excuse to go in. We make plans to do the same to North Korea, Iran and Syria. Maybe we catch a few allies of the 9/11 terrorists. More likely we create more terrorists. We kill civilians. We send our brothers and sisters off to fight and get killed.

In the name of the victims of 9/11, our nation commits to all this. Like veterans and KIAs, the 9/11 victims are used to justify all sorts of illegitimate military and political deeds. Like veterans, they are dishonored by George W. Bush. They are dishonored by Dick Cheney. They are dishonored by Colin Powell. They are dishonored by Donald Rumsfeld. They are dishonored by John Ashcroft. Rice. Perle. Wolfowitz. Same. Same. Our nation's leaders dishonor the 9/11 dead by using them to promote their preemptive wars and to erode our civil liberties on the homefront.

Bush pulled a con job usually called "bait-and-switch." The American people wanted justice for the victims of 9/11. The finger was pointed at al-Qaeda, who were in Afghanistan, so we went to war there with mixed results. We tried to kill a mosquito with a hammer. We got some al-Qaeda and Taliban, but many are still running around loose in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan.

One thing about going to Afghanistan: even though we went in heavy-handed, we were aiming at al-Qaeda, which was at least understandable. That was the bait, and then Bush switched. Iraq and Saddam had no connection with al-Qaeda. Bush had the CIA looking for a connection to enhance his propaganda effort, but al-Qaeda and Saddam despised one another. There was no connection. So Bush set the bait that we were going after al-Qaeda, who was responsible for the 9/11 crimes, and switched to going after Saddam, who is all bad, but not responsible for the 9/11 crimes. When Bush did this, it was the ultimate diss of the 9/11 victims. Their memory is now being used to bring death and destruction for his political purposes.

Bill Shunas is a Vietnam veteran and author.
He's a member of VVAW's Chicago chapter.

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