“On Memorial Day we’ll hear about men who gave their lives for their country, but many lives were not given, they were taken, and taken stupidly and carelessly. And there has been great public piety about those men and their “sacrifice” on the part of politicians who blithely sacrificed them.”
Memorial Day is the most somber of American holidays, the day we honor the soldiers who have died in service to their country. In 1966, Waterloo, NY was officially designated the birthplace of the holiday by the U.S. Congress, on the centennial of the village’s first celebration in 1866. The idea was a lot simpler back then. Decorate the graves of the soldiers from the village that had died in the Civil War. In fact, the holiday was known for years by my parent’s generation as Decoration Day.
The holiday has morphed into something else today–parades, picnics, baseball games. The official line is that these simple expressions of Americana represent what our soldiers fought and died to protect.
It has become much harder to celebrate this holiday, because as the quote from Garrison Keillor at the beginning of this post points out, the sacrifice of the lives of young men and women have come at the behest of politicians playing cynical and dangerous games. The unilateral invasion of Iraq has done nothing to secure the liberties of this nation. It has been plausibly argued that the war has done more to destabilize our country.
It was different when soldiers went off to preserve the Union and end slavery. It was different when fascism was confronted and defeated. The savagery and destruction that comes with all conflict, the physical and emotional scars left on combatants and their families, it was endurable because the alternative was so much worse. Citizens honored the dead and the sacrifice they made, it was the least we could do. We owed our comfortable lives and continued existence to these brave souls.
But current Memorial Days are not celebrations. We are grieving for the lost, lives lost for no good reason. Savagery and butchery with no ennobling purpose. The sacrifice of blood and treasure for the benefit of politicians, oil company executives and foreign oligarchs.
So despite the parades, picnics and baseball games, despite the unveiling of statues and monuments, despite the plaques freshly dedicated with the new names of “those who made the ultimate sacrifice”, I still feel that the only legitimate celebration of Memorial Day in 2008 is to find some posturing blowhard politician and kick him right in the nuts.