We need Memorial Day, not for the “spectacular sales and savings” nor for opportunity to relax over a three day weekend – we need it to remind us that many have died and suffered for us. If we are to truly honor their memory, then we must attempt to learn something from the results and the consequences of our actions.
Before it was a military cemetery, the Arlington Estate belonged to the wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In 1864, the federal government seized the 1,100 acre property, using it to bury the Union dead. By doing so, and resettling escaped slaves on the land, Lincoln made explicit the idea that the war was being fought to free the four million enslaved Negroes of the South. In his remarkably concise 272 word speech at Gettysburg was the assurance that the nation would do everything possible to honor the sacrifice of fallen soldiers by working to transform the Declaration of Independence into reality. President Warren Harding speaking at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1921 repeated Lincoln’s message: “Our part is to atone for the losses of the heroic dead by making a better Republic for the living.”
Anyone who has ever been involved in a shooting war knows that there is no glory or honor involved, regardless of the uniform that’s worn. There is only suffering, fear, disillusionment and death; the creation of nightmares to sear the souls and hollow the eyes of people who have witnessed things no one was ever meant to witness, and who are congratulated as “survivors.” The glorious dead remain dead, leaving behind widows and orphans who strive to find meaning in the void created by the loss of one they loved.
I give honor to those who have sacrificed themselves for an ideal of freedom, of liberty. I despise those who have manipulated and subverted the truth to create fear and loathing in honest citizens in order to gain power, riches and feeding of their own egos. I abhor the jingoistic slogans, propaganda machines, the deliberate obfuscations by which young men and women are sent in harm’s way, and the callous treatment of those whose service we have demanded but whose damaged bodies and psyches are now considered too heavy a burden for our society to carry.
By all means – let us take this day to remember the sacrifices of those we have asked to serve us. Let us look long and hard at the causes for which we commit our military, where we define objectives that have a potential military solution, and make certain that every possible alternative to armed conflict has been utilized. In all our long history, war has never provided the lasting solution to economic or ideological conflict. Finally, let us look at our own behaviors today, and ask, “Are our words and actions making a better Republic for the living, as we keep promising to our heroic dead?”