Monday, May 27, 2013

Why Memorial Day Has Lost Its Meaning

This Memorial Day I have noticed the culmination of a recent trend whereby the holiday has ceased to be a day for memorialization.  No, I am not scolding folks who have barbecues and ride their jet skis today, but rather the transformation of a holiday intended to mourn to the dead into a day to fetishize the American military.  For example, I am currently watching the Cubs-White Sox game, where both teams are wearing uniforms that incorporate military camouflage.  If they were truly into the spirit of the day, they would be wearing black armbands.  On Facebook and Twitter, all kinds of people are praising the veterans in their families and the armed forces in general, not those felled by bullets, lost at sea, or blown to bits by artillery shells.

That's all well and good for Veteran's Day, but is not consistent with the true meaning of Memorial Day.  It is a holiday with its origins in the aftermath of the Civil War, a war that killed over 600,000 people, about two percent of the American population at the time.  Such a war today would leave six million dead, a number that seems beyond comprehension.  Memorial Day is a day for the dead, not for the living, yet that meaning seems utterly lost.

The reasons are awfully clear.  Death is the ultimate cost of war, and in our nation's seemingly never-ending War on Terror, the powers that be would rather not have the public contemplate the human consequences of maintaing the American empire.  Instead, they would have us issue forth empty gestures of praise for the men and women in uniform, all while they continue to die and be maimed on distance battlefields for little evident purpose.  Case in point, plenty of people will fill their Facebook feeds with pious words for veterans, but don't seem to know or care about the appalling negligence returning soldiers have endured from the VA.  Those folks will keep putting the yellow ribbon magnets on their cars and put the reality of war and its consequences out of their mind.  Our politicians will outdo themselves with flattery for soldiers, then keep sending them to die for a mistake.

Next year, I hope we can embrace the true meaning of Memorial Day, and think long and hard about whether the ultimate sacrifices that we offer so much lip service to were really and truly worth it.

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