Libertarians Should Reject Memorial Day

by | May 29, 2023

Libertarians Should Reject Memorial Day

by | May 29, 2023

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Memorial Day brings together people from all political persuasions in remembrance and celebration of dead American soldiers. Libertarians, however, should reject a holiday that consecrates and immortalizes the names and lives of those who sacrificed themselves in unnecessary wars.

The National Memorial Day was originally a national day of prayer for peace. Prior to President Richard Nixon’s declaration, there were many regional memorial days established and spontaneously practiced for a similar purpose. Unfortunately, it has become less about ending wars and more about worshipping conflict.

Of course, there is something to be said for honoring men and women who have been deceived or conscripted into fighting wars. They were either not aware that the actions they took were evil or they were forced to die because of some bureaucratic diktat. Regardless, the effects of Memorial Day cannot be good. Satiating the ego of young men by setting aside a day in their honor in the event they die encourages enlistment and wanton sacrifice. Soldiers will fear death less if death brings them immortality.

Memorial Day is like Valhalla for the American soldier. When they make the ultimate sacrifice, their names will be remembered and celebrated on Memorial Day; banners with their names and faces will be displayed on telephone poles in their hometowns, services will be had in their honor, and countless other festivities.

There is something eerily idolatrous about this whole practice. The American soldier is almost elevated to the level of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. “They died for our freedom,” the defenders of Memorial Day say. I counter with they died for nothing.

It is hard to conceive that Memorial Day has a negative effect on recruitment. Doing away with the holiday and promoting a culture which does not honor veterans would be minor but not ineffective at deterring future military recruitment and eager sacrifice in foreign conflict. We should not want our children to excitedly join the U.S. Armed Forces so that they can go overseas and die for the state. Military recruitment is already struggling, and abolishing Memorial Day would be another blow to the military machine.

Furthermore, to make a less radical case, transforming our country’s culture into one that is neutral on joining the military might be sufficient. Why should the job of a soldier be honored more than the job of anyone else? Value is subjective, and consumers make judgements about what jobs are worth creating and which are worth destroying. Bankers, bakers, barbers, and many others are all supported by consumers voluntarily, but the only thing supporting soldiers is the United States government via coerced tax payments. The jobs soldiers do, therefore, lack that direct connection to human welfare since nobody voluntarily chooses to financially support them. If a soldier deserves any praise or honor, it should be given on an individual basis, not as a broad assumption.

In fact, since they are supported by involuntary payments, they might deserve consternation. There are people who go into the military because they want to “kill Muslims” or because it’s their “patriotic duty.” I know because I have met them, and I am sure readers know people like that as well. This warrants reproachment and ostracism. Sympathy can be had for those who join the military out of desperation, deception, or conscription, but no sympathy or respect is owed to those that do so because they like the job, have an infatuation with duty towards the state, or worse, wanted to kill people.

Memorial Day’s original conception as a day of prayer for peace was fine. But today it has become an excuse to worship dead soldiers. This promotes an unhealthy dedication to unnecessary sacrifice, and one libertarians should not participate in. The religiosity surrounding the military would thus suffer a mighty blow.

About Benjamin Seevers

Benjamin Seevers is an economics PhD student at West Virginia University and holds a BA in economics from Grove City College. He was a 2023 Mises Summer Fellow. His research interests include private governance, public policy, and libertarian ethics. He blogs at Seevers Insights.

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