Summary: How should we honor the sacrifices made by our veterans, past and present.? After 150 years of frequent wars, as the last of our troops return from Afghanistan, as the military begins the long post-war downsizing, we need to up our game. Memorial Day is the day to begin.
- Who started Memorial Day?
- Four ways to celebrate Memorial Day
- Another perspective on Memorial Day
- Something else to ponder on Memorial Day
(1) Origin of the Memorial Day holiday
The Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization composed of veterans who served in the American Civil War. Here is their General Order No.11, issued on 5 May 1868:
The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
For 16 years I led Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts on Memorial Day to plant flags on graves. That’s an appropriate thing for children to do. But the US has been at war much of the past 150 years, and that’s no longer sufficient for its citizens. The toll of the crippled and dead have grown too long. We should redefine our obligations to our veterans, living and dead.
(2) Four ways to celebrate Memorial Day
(a) Support our troops
Flowers on graves are nice. But donations or volunteering show your support for our troops in a more useful way. Here are three organizations that provide valuable support to our troops.
(b) Force Congress to better fund care for Veterans
There is no excuse for underfunding care for veterans. As they come home this problem will grow more serious. Fix it now. This has been a problem — well reported in the news for a decade. It’s in the news again. Unless we speak out it will be in the news again next year.
Our military leaders have proven that they care about funding for things — like the malfunctioning, insanely expensive F-35 — more than the people who fights our wars.
(c) Hire a veteran
Lots of men and women leaving the service now that our wars wind down and DoD’s mad over-funding gets cut. Give them a helping hand.
(d) Stop our vain wars
Let’s add no more chapters to American history describing wars that did nothing for America, like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It’s a democracy. We bear full responsibility, collectively, for sending our troops into harm’s way — for what they do, and what happens to them. Now our government sends them to Africa, expanding the Africom footprint, as usual with a inchoate impulse such as that which created the British Empire — but without the profits.
Fate has given America — for a time — “the fateful lighting of His terrible swift sword”. We have the obligation to wield it wisely. Increasingly since 1960 we have used our force for trivial, evil or mad reasons. For partisan political advantage, to reshape other peoples in our image (for their own good), and to support and increase US power.
You might believe that we have no obligation for proper use of the military, to our forefathers or to the other people of the world. What about the men and women fighting our wars? We recruit them to defend the nation. To deploy them for other reasons is to betray that bargain. Perhaps we should create a force of mercs to fight our venal foreign wars, as France has in the Foreign Legion and Britain in the Brigade of Gurkas.
John Quincy Adams gave us sound advice in his speech at the House of Representatives on 4 July 1821:
… if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world… should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind? Let our answer be this: America … has held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.
- She has uniformly spoken among them … the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.
- She has … respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.
- She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings …
Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.
She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.
(3) Another perspective on Memorial Day…
See the 2012 post for another perspective worth remembering: A thought for and about Memorial Day.
(4) Something else to ponder on Memorial Day
Performed by the US Army Chorus accompanied by the US Army Band; from the CD “The Flag Flies High”: