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A Response to My Memorial Day Critics

by | Jun 2, 2023

My article against Memorial Day drew a lot of ire and attention. This should not have been surprising; I was making a controversial statement. What did surprise me, however, was that many critics were self-described libertarians or former libertarians. There were many rebukes, but few dealt with the content of my article, either saying that it was just simply wrong or attacking my character, neither of which were sufficient. I stand by my article, but I think that in light of the criticism, the argument needs to be stated one more time with feeling.

It is not honorable to sacrifice yourself for the state. Likewise, we should not honor those sacrifices. To dance around that fact is to accept a minimal state or reject libertarianism entirely. A consistent libertarian will be against a holiday which honors these sacrifices as well as being against federal holidays in general.

As noted in the article, the way Memorial Day started was spontaneous and as a day of prayer for peace. War was shown for what it was, an evil, whereas today, Memorial Day has been co-opted.

Critics replied that it’s a time to honor those that gave the “ultimate sacrifice.” The ultimate sacrifice for what? Sacrificing to the state, to special interests, to pointless wars, and to the whims of bureaucrats, is not honorable, whether they knew what they were doing or not. Unfortunately, many say that the soldiers died protecting our freedom and liberty. Every libertarian should recognize this is just not the case.

The “ultimate sacrifice,” whether done in good faith or not, is vicious. Attacking Memorial Day is not about attacking the soldiers who were tricked, but about attacking the culture that led to these soldiers laying down their lives.

Not honoring them may be painful, but it will be worse for the military state. Anger over the dead will be less satiated. Anger can be directed at the state instead of being transformed into solemnity or redirected at those enemies of the U.S. who dare attack our values.

Furthermore, the young men who become enchanted by patriotic events during Memorial Day and other militaristic traditions will be discouraged from enlisting. The horrors of war may be emphasized at events, but the nobility of those that suffered those horrors are pronounced even more.

That is one reason why I said that it is “like Valhalla” (notice how I used “like” because I did not mean Memorial Day was literally Valhalla; some people didn’t understand that). Traditions like Memorial Day immortalize and reward the fallen soldier. Ironically, those who criticized the use of “Valhalla” would be mortified to see that “Valhalla” was explicitly and frequently referenced on Memorial Day posts on Twitter. Check for yourself if you don’t believe me.

There are definitely good Memorial Day events. Libertarians have done much to salvage this holiday which has given opportunities to emphasize the death and destruction that follows war-making. I fully acknowledge that, but to think that libertarians are controlling the narrative during this national holiday is delusional. The vast majority of Americans make it about honorable sacrifice and protecting American values of freedom and democracy.

I am not against showing sympathy for the fallen; however, I am against honoring the kind of sacrifice that Memorial Day celebrates and praises, a vicious sacrifice. To pretend otherwise is to be blind to the reality that is in your face every Memorial Day. The sacrifice that Memorial Day celebrates should not be honored or encouraged in any way.

Benjamin Seevers

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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