It’s been said that no war ends until the last veteran dies. Of the 16 million Americans called upon to fight European fascists and Japanese imperialists, roughly 40 thousand are alive today. Since America has been directly involved in various wars both before World War II (over 500 overt interventions into dozens of countries since 1798) and after (hundreds of covert interventions since WWII), we have created an awful lot of veterans, victims and memorials.

If honest, most any veteran will admit a truth that non-veterans might be surprised to learn; the fact that not all veterans are heroes nor did we all serve heroically. Most of us served honorably as evidenced by our DD-214, while only a few served with distinct honor. In fact, some were downright scoundrels. Most heroes died on a battlefield—so we memorialize them with a day off. Heroes are the sheepdogs in a world controlled by wolves, willing to risk their lives so others may carry on. The coronavirus has been making a lot of heroes lately.

I’ve been fortunate to have known several heroes. Their lives and deaths provide daily inspiration. One such hero I am often reminded of was my friend and brother, Dave Cline. Dave left this world in 2007, so talking about him won’t cause him any embarrassment. Dave served with the 4th Infantry in Tay-Ninh Provence, RVN, in 1967, and was awarded three Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. But Dave was much more proud of his 40 years as a peace activist. He was the first veteran I can remember who would regularly tell people “Don’t thank me for my service—thank me for fighting for peace.”

In observing and interacting with selfless and heroic people like Dave, I’ve learned that everyone has the capacity to live a heroic life. It’s one of those choices we all must make, consciously or unconsciously—a choice that can take hold at any stage of life but will ultimately take the rest of our lives as we endeavor to perfect it.

Another thing I’ve observed is the human tendency to sometimes honor very unheroic people and openly praising the most undeserving among us. Those who—against their own interests—defend a system of neoliberalism, a system disguised as a democracy. A system evolving into Henry Wallace’s (President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president and American hero) worst nightmare. American fascism; a movement that began in the early 20th century, was beaten back, yet is embraced by a confused, uneducated public today.

A recent event examples another step in the direction we are headed. Criminal charges dismissed against a self-confessed, two-time liar. A taker of bribes. An American general who “should have known” better and who ignored his oath to protect and defend America in favor of protecting his own self-serving agenda, his unresolved associations with enemies of our democratic rule of law and his backing by forces that have been vying for control for decades.

So, this Memorial Day let’s honor those who gave their lives in the fight against empires and fascism by learning how to tell the difference between the heroes and scoundrels.

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