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A thought for and about Memorial Day

28 May 2012

Summary:  Memorial Day should not be a time for self-congratulation or celebration. What is it about?

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Not all the deeds done by our troops have been glorious, nor have all their missions been just or even good.  But that is our responsibility, as the citizens of the United States.  Our men and women in uniform served this nation.  Most contributed their time and energy.  Many contributed much more.  Some contributed all they had to give.

That’s what we should remember on this day.

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Speech by President Lincoln

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
19 November 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

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Two ways to celebrate Memorial Day

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  1. An effective way to support our Troops: help the Blue Star Mothers of America, 8 June 2008 — There are ways to support our troops, actions more effective than a bumper sticker on your car.
  2. Support the USO – more effective than a bumper sticker, 5 July 2008 — Another way to support our troops, more effective than a bumper sticker.

For more ideas see the 2014 Memorial Day post: How can we better honor our vets on Memorial Day?

Two other things to remember on Memorial Day

  1. A crisis at the beginning of the American experiment, 27 December 2008 — Looking at the problems looming before us, it is easy to forget those of equal or greater danger that we have surmounted in the past.
  2. We have endemic terrorism – but few wars and epidemics. That’s good news!, 15 December 2009

A reminder about Memorial Day, for those who consider it national BBQ day

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. 28 May 2012 6:14 am

    It’s hard. A good friend of mine’s son just went to Afghanistan to defend something he doesn’t understand against some other mother’s sons who understand all too well.

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  2. 28 May 2012 6:52 am

    Fabius, thank you for reminding your readers that Memorial Day is a solemn day of remembrance that has been bastardized into a vulgar day of feasting.

    That photo is powerful and timely. Looking at it I give thanks that I have never lost a friend or a loved one to war. If we’re sincere about supporting our troops, we need to recognize that many of them and their relatives truly go through hell. A parent having to bury a child shouldn’t be a statistic, and our leaders should put no parent in that unimaginable position without a compelling reason.

    Today I heard some fool of a DJ encouraging his audience to give thanks to the troops for defending our freedom to barbecue. If that’s representative of our national understanding of civics and history, we’re in serious trouble.

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    • Pluto permalink
      28 May 2012 12:01 pm

      I’ve got two kids graduating soon from one of the best public schools in the country. Trust me, we’re in very serious trouble.

      Students get a VERY shallow dive into government and history these days unless they take special classes that are available to less than 10% of the student body. And the special classes barely meet the level of classes I took in regular Junior High School more than 30 years ago.

      Hopefully the military academies (West Point, etc.) offer better fare.

      Like

    • WTF permalink
      29 May 2012 8:34 am

      Government and history:

      1) are not “cool”, and
      2) are not quick paths to a job.

      This is a problem of culture. Contrast that with the intellectual and spiritual depth of the following popular spiritual teacher: Julian Walker.

      Note the Yoga teacher’s defense of social justice causes: “Top 10 Signs Your Spirituality Might Be Integral“, Joe Perez, 24 January 2012.

      Like

  3. 28 May 2012 7:36 am

    It is hard because the American dream is not the dream of materialism but a dream conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

    Remember also, in addition to the war in Afghanistan, the war on terror, the war in Iraq (it is still going strong) and least we forget the war on drugs. So many suffer from the ills of all this war. A great task remaining before us indeed.

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  4. 28 May 2012 6:02 pm

    Decoration Day? Memorial Day? 1865 or1968. Another Hallmark Joke brought to you by the Apologists. You send your kids to War?

    I have a good friend. He served in the Coast Guard in the late 50′s, I think. He thinks he was a Military Patriot. In the 60′s we knew what the Coast Guard was for and it was not for fighting.

    America fights Wars with Corporations now and kids from second and third tier towns and cities. Re-Institute the Draft with no deferments and watch these “Wars” and this Foreign Policy come to a screeching halt.

    Take a trip to the tip of Denmark, drive down the coast across Germany through Belgium and Holland and end up on the Beaches of Omaha, Arromanches. Then tell me you send your kids off to War.

    My dad flew from England on D Day and many missions after that Day. After many long discussions, he told me “You are my son, I love you and will support you no matter what your decisions is…” re Viet Nam. Send your kids off to War?

    There are reasons why BBQ is de rigueur.

    Breton

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    • 28 May 2012 8:57 pm

      Breton, I often wonder how old you are.

      In America citizens enlist at 18. They do not need a parent’s consent, neither one or both. Nor can parents enlist their children.

      So your sad little rant about “sending kids off to war” is factually wrong.

      Like

    • 28 May 2012 9:43 pm

      I think the point he was driving at was that the warhawks who beat the war drums – very rarely will you see their sons and daughters going to war.

      Though with that said, the lower classes (including the Conservative elements) do indeed lose children, spouses, and parents to the war. If anything this often bolsters their support for said war. Its sad to see so many people misled into a patriotic fervor by a cheap bumper sticker.

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    • 28 May 2012 10:20 pm

      “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath

      Generals gathered in their masses
      Just like witches at black masses
      Evil minds that plot destruction
      Sorcerer of death’s construction

      In the fields, the bodies burning
      As the war machine keeps turning
      Death and hatred to mankind
      Poisoning their brainwashed minds
      Oh, Lord, yeah!

      Politicians hide themselves away
      They only started the war
      Why should they go out to fight?
      They leave that all to the poor
      Yeah

      Time will tell on their power minds
      Making war just for fun
      Treating people just like pawns in chess
      Wait till their judgment day comes
      Yeah

      Now, in darkness, world stops turning
      Ashes where their bodies burning
      No more war pigs have the power
      Hand of God has struck the hour

      Day of judgment, God is calling
      On their knees, the war pigs crawling
      Begging mercies for their sins
      Satan laughing spreads his wings
      Oh, Lord, yeah!

      Like

    • WTF permalink
      29 May 2012 9:08 am

      re: ““You are my son, I love you and will support you no matter what your decisions is…””

      What is so hard to understand? The father was a WWII veteran. The son was conflicted about serving in a pointless, unpopular war (Vietnam). The father was being consulted for wisdom. WWII was a populist army. Vietnam was not. The father probably had a sense of the difference. This happened in many families.

      In my family, my father came back from Vietnam as a decorated mid-career combat veteran*, and thought the war, and McNamara and other politicians running it, were stupid or evil (unwilling to do what was needed to win). McNamara of course later admitted that he was evil, had no intent to ever win. My father supported my older brother’s intent to be a conscientious objector a few years later, the last year of the draft. The Vietnam war ended 3 or 4 years after the draft was stopped.

      *(also a combat veteran in Korea and trained but not deployed to combat in WWII. He was getting ready to deploy when the war ended after joining at 17 years old.)

      My grand uncle was a B17 pilot, and POW, in Germany. None of his sons went to Vietnam. His brother was in WWII (non-combat) and none of his sons went to Vietnam. All “conservative”, “patriotic” Republicans. Descended from Civil War combat veterans.

      Vietnam was seen as a “Democratic Party” war until Nixon was elected.

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    • 29 May 2012 1:16 pm

      “The Vietnam war ended 3 or 4 years after the draft was stopped.”

      Incorrect. The February 1972 draft “lottery” assigned numbers for conscription of men born in 1953. In 1972 49,514 men were drafted in the US; 646 in 1973. The last remaining American ground troops were withdrawn in August 1972. The Paris Peace Accords on “Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam” were signed on 27 January 1973, officially ending direct U.S. involvement in the war.

      *Vietnam was seen as a “Democratic Party” war until Nixon was elected.”

      That seems unlikely, IMO. Can you cite any evidence?

      Like

  5. WTF permalink
    29 May 2012 9:14 am

    Sadly, most of the ideas that Lincoln believed in were destroyed by the industrialists and bankers within a generation. Shortly afterwards, the USA inherited the status of an Imperial culture when it took (err… “liberated”) Spanish colonies. Bill Moyers PBS interview of the best technical Lincoln historian of recent times.

    Like

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