Memorial Day 2011
Yesterday I watched a film on PBS called “Most Honorable Son” which told the story of a Japanese American’s life as an airman in the American army in the Second World War. It was a moving film for its reminding us of the many sacrifices so many made at home and abroad to defeat fascism. 400,000 Americans lost their lives in the wars in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific islands while defeating Germany, Italy and Japan. Sixteen million Americans served in combat. Many hundreds of thousands lost limbs or retained physical or mental scars from their combat days. And the subject of the documentary, airman Ben Kuroki, endured much else as a decorated hero who had to fight racism in his own country and projections of betrayal from his Japanese people who were in concentration camps in the West while he served in air combat over France and Germany.
Meditating on this sacrifice of so many on the morning after that television program (and I am only counting the American sacrifices since today is America’s day to honor its dead soldiers), something comes to mind. The defeat of fascism, this great movement of bluster and control, of genocide and racial hatred, of bullying and advanced weaponry, of “institutionalized violence” and of the marriage of corporate and government powers—how complete was it? We are told that the German surrender was “unconditional” and that the Italians switched to our side before the war’s end, but there is something deeply disturbing about news we pick up these days.
I am thinking of the return of fascism in the Roman Catholic Church today. The honoring of Jose Escriva, founder of Opus Dei and card-carrying fascist priest by naming him a “saint.” Escriva was, among other things, an admirer of Hitler and his Opus Dei tribe was happy to serve on fascist dictator Franco’s Cabinet for many years. The support in the highest places in the Vatican for Fr. Maciel (yes, Pope John Paul II was so enamored of this man that he invited him along on plane rides and canonized his uncle and set a canonization of his mother into motion). Maciel abused over 20 youths whom he attracted to his many seminaries and abused four of his own children (3 boys and a girl) born in two clandestine liasons. He also very publicly supported the fascist dictator of Chile, Pinochet and Maciel’s papally-blessed organization, Legion of Christ, demanded vows that no one question the dictator, the “good Father,” who everyone knew was all about Jesus work on earth. Then Communion and Liberation, called “the Opus Dei of Italy,” equally extreme in its put-down of women and freedom of conscience and Protestants and anything that smacks of democracy. All these movements fully endorsed and abetted and sanctified by the higher-ups in the Vatican (including the secretary of state under John Paul II and the present secretary of state and Pope John Paul II himself whom the present pope is rushing into canonization).
Americans sacrificed much to bring fascism to an end. Given today’s ecclesiastic history, the effort was only partially successful. It is time to rise up against the well-healed efforts to render fascism fashionable once more and to wrap it in Biblical and Papal covers. This would be, it seems to me, a rightful response to Memorial Day: Remember the fallen by carrying on their struggle—not by playing ecclesiastical couchpotato while the symbols of Christianity are seized once again by fascist sympathizers. Resistance once called forth the courage and generosity of a generation of Americans. It is still needed. Now more than ever.
Fascism is on the return not only in fundamentalist church circles both Vatican and Protestant, it is also alive and steaming in the Supreme Court’s “Citizen’s United” declaration (recall that several members of the supreme court so eager to render this decision are also Opus Dei members). This notorious decision has declared that any corporation has the same rights as an individual citizen especially when it comes to financing political campaigns. Not since Mussolini himself defined fascism as “the marriage of government and corporations” has there been so egregious an endorsement of fascism from so high a place in American society.
I had two uncles who served in World War II and, luckily, came home. One served in France and Germany and was among those who liberated Dachau. The other was a marine who served in the Pacific theater including bloody battles of Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. Both are now deceased. I wonder if either would be pleased with the return of fascism in our time. I believe both would be shocked that such sacrifices as their generation made were so easily forgotten.
Thus, Memorial Day. Let us Remember. Not just by planting flags but by sustaining worthwhile resistance. Amen.