Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

I read somewhere the suggestion that Memorial Day has been trivialized by making it a Monday holiday. I don't think that's exactly true. I think we've trivialized all our holidays. Monday holidays are convenient for just about everyone, including business. A holiday on a Tuesday or Thursday invites a four day weekend. Memorial Day is much more of a start of summer celebration now. The 4th of July used to serve the purpose, believe or not. Beyond that, Memorial Day cannot be turned into anything other than another retail shopping occasion. Shopping is the #1 hobby. It feeds on every other hobby.

Memorial Day comes to us from the Civil War. My grandparents' generation, born around the turn of the 20th Century, were the last to directly feel that connection. But through them, I felt it, helped by the Civil War Centennial while I was a teenager. About the time Memorial Day would have begun fading in significance, we had another great war that touched everyone in America, & so it became an important day in the 1950's & 60's, with parades concluding in solemn & touching ceremonies at town monuments to war dead. Those monuments had many additional names from World War Two.

Now we have trivialized war. The burdens are shared by relatively few Americans, all "volunteers" & their families - if three & four deployments of the same Guard & Reserve units could be considered volunteering. Soldier graves are dug one at a time, here & there, at widely separate places. it's easy to avoid seeing them. Where profit was once the great opportunity of war, now it provides the reason itself. Iraq is about profit, & all the other reasons are ruses. We know them to be ruses. We have the proof, for God's sake! The ruses are possible only as long as most Americans can be distracted & not asked to sacrifice anything. Our president sacrificed his golf game because he felt families of dead American soldiers would be offended by photos of him swinging a club on exclusive links with oil billionaires & other war profiteers. Instead, he takes long, invisible vacations at a remote location in Texas. His emotional response to the war he started is mere sentiment, & that enrages me. It is about patriotic display without substance. It is about crocodile tears. It is about not fearing for the lives of his children, that they might be swept up in a sense of duty or by economic necessity & themselves "volunteer" for a year in Iraq or Afghanistan, or staring at arrays of screens & switches deep inside a ship, or even sitting at a desk in the middle of a hot, boring military installation in America. In a way, George W. Bush is perfect for an America that fights two wars at once as we complain bitterly about the sacrifices we are forced to make because of the price of a gallon of gasoline.

Drive to the cemetery, look at the little flags on the graves, & think on that, & think on how this day once helped to heal the deepest divisions of this nation, & how it still tells us that there are worthier sacrifices, ultimate sacrifices even.

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"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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