Grills will be lit; beer will be iced. Pool parties will be scheduled. Many will celebrate a three-day weekend. Many will not consider, “What cost?”
Memorial Day is a remembrance of horror, a memorial to the costs of war, a payment in blood and bone, in flesh, in broken bodies and minds. It is a remembrance of loss. The day should not be a celebration but too many of us treat it as if it were.
We have fallen in love with the idea of war. We have been at war for far too long. I was born during the Korean “Conflict”, came of age during the Cold War and Vietnam. I have lived through too many wars, lived through what has become almost continuous.
We glorify our military conquests and denigrate anything other than total victory. Memorial Day should be a sobering recognition of what glorification costs instead of a drunken celebration of war.
Local VFWs and other veterans’ groups will sponsor parades and tributes to our fallen heroes. Old men in ill-fitting uniforms will stand at attention saluting as marching bands play. Small flags will flutter in front of grave markers and trumpets will sound over cemeteries in villages, towns, and cities alike.
The American Movie Channel will broadcast an all-day marathon of war movies featuring brave men dying for a cause until the Walking Dead returns at 3:45. We should remember, these matinée idols are playing a role; the men and women they portray did not get to go home after a day in front of a camera. Many of these roles never came home at all and no one is left unscathed when the battle is over.
For those who returned, far too many servicemen and women came home having left a part of themselves on battlefields around the world. In deserts and swamps, they left more than their footprints, they left a piece of their humanity and a bit of their sanity. War is not always a noble enterprise even though most of the men and women who fight it are quite noble and brave. War is not a movie on a screen.
I once enjoyed watching movies with John Wayne facing down the enemy. Sitting with my father, a World War Two veteran, the Sunday Matinee might offer “The Fighting Seabees”, “The Sands of Iwo Jima”, “Flying Leathernecks”, “In Harm’s Way”, “The Horse Soldiers” and “They Were Expendable”. The craggy-faced, steely-eyed hero squinting down his gun barrel, facing insurmountable odds and yet somehow prevailing…too often at the cost of his own life but never at the cost of his humanity. His bravery is displayed in technicolor on the silver screen.
I have become a pacifist. I never intended to be one, it just happened. As a youth, I was gung-ho with my mother’s metal mixing bowl upside down on my head, defending the red clay hill behind my house against the enemies of the “American Way” with my Mattel Thompson machine gun.
I know in my Autumn years I’ve become just that, a pacifist. I suspect my course of study in college, Kurt Vonnegut, the effects of living through the Vietnam War years and an almost continuous series of military conflicts during my lifetime are to blame for my change. Too many dead, too many broken.
War, policing actions, or skirmishes are all the same to the dead and wounded. Young people fighting old men’s wars. The poor fighting for the rich. All dying for ideology, religion or to line the pockets of those who benefit from the business of war. I have become quite cynical and am not apologetic.
I was a participant in the first Vietnam draft lottery, my brass ring was number two hundred seventeen. I say brass ring because the number was never called. I knew I was a coward and didn’t want to go fight in Southeast Asia or anywhere else for that matter. I also knew I would be the bravest coward in the world if called up. I would go and fight if asked to. I could do nothing else. I would do what was expected by friends, family, and my nation. I wonder how many called to fight felt the same way. How many were called up and went because it was expected? I felt I must have been the only one.
We have become too fond of war. We eat and digest the propaganda. War makes too many people rich, too many people powerful…too many people dead.
We have a love affair with our expensive and destructive toys of war. The one percent pushing the ninety-nine percent to the brink. Pulling our six-guns and coming out blazing. Let God sort it out in the end because diplomacy doesn’t make enough money.
The greatest “celebration” to our fallen would be to end the killing and bring our people home, ceasing to create more fallen. But there is no money to be made in bringing our people home and we learned from Vietnam, there can be no hint of defeat. I fear we will continue to memorialize until there is no one left.
As an anonymous philosopher once posed, “War does not determine who is right — only who is left.” I visualize a lone man celebrating victory as the world burns around him.
Yes, I am cynical…and quite morose this morning. I can think of no better way to “celebrate” Memorial Day.
To those who serve, to those who have given all, to those who have lost their loved ones, you have my gratitude and I hope, the gratitude of a nation.
The image of Arlington National Cemetary courtesy of https://www.military.com
Don Miller’s author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM