Yesterday was Memorial Day in the United States. Memorial Day is one of the few national holidays in the US and it is celebrated in remembrance of the brave men and women of the armed forces who have fought and continue to fight to promote American interest and protect the freedoms of the American way of life. It is a day that is marked with pomp and pageantry, in many ways very similar to the observance of Independence Day. Irrespective of political or social status, this is one holiday that is celebrated across the land. It is a day that soldiers, past and present are honored by a grateful nation for their sacrifices in the interest of the nation.
The first Memorial Day that I witnessed was in May 2004 and I was quite surprised about how my American friends made a big deal out of this day. Coming from where I come from, I was surprised that anybody will want to make such a big deal about honoring soldiers. It was only when I began to fish around that I began to understand the importance of Memorial Day in American Society. In fact the general election of 2004 gave me a quick crash course on the importance of the military in American Society. Candidate after candidate, both at the local and national level proudly displayed their military credentials to the electorate. It was almost like the ‘real’ American must have served in the military or at least have family members that served or are serving in the military.
I was taken aback, wow! My question was; why should any serious politician think that they can ride on their military record for political office. What? Once again coming from where I come from, the nexus between military and politics in America just did not make sense to me. Where I come from, the last thing anybody wants is for a military man, whether past or present to aspire for political office. In my neck of the woods – Africa - these military type people are responsible for most of the problems that Africans face today. They are responsible for the numerous coups d’état which for a period in the 1990s was the leading way of changing governments in Africa. They are the ones who have so brutalized and abused our people that they just bad news for most people in Africa. They are known to whisk people away from their homes in the middle of the night never to be seen again. In times of relative peace, military type people have been used as debt collectors. You are better off if mother earth swallows you than if your creditor called the soldiers to come and collect the money. They act with impunity in our societies. You dare not question a soldier, not even when you are a police officer on duty. Just about a week ago police and soldiers clashed in the Nigeria town of Badagry resulting in many deaths. The confrontation was apparently sparked when a police officer allegedly shot a soldier in a 'traffic stop gone bad'. As the African adage goes, when two elephants fights it is the grass that suffers. The people who are supposed to be protecting us are fighting. Sigh!
My American friends I hope you have forgiven my naivety of the significance of Memorial Day. On this Memorial Day, I honor all military personnel and their families. I wish we in Africa can also celebrate our soldiers. However, we can only celebrate them when they realize the very important position they occupy in our society – they are supposed to be the protectors of the state, not the saboteurs, they are supposed to be our defense against oppression, not the oppressors, they are supposed to be our peace of mind and not our nightmares.