This upcoming Monday is Memorial Day …
What is Memorial Day? If you are like I used to be then you may be confused as to the difference between Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Armed Forces Day, and maybe even Independence Day. Memorial Day was enacted by the Union following the Civil War to commemorate and honor fallen Union soldiers. Later it would extend also to fallen Confederate soldiers. It was originally known as Decoration Day since they would decorate the tombs of soldiers passed. After WWII the holiday became more expansive, including essentially all fallen soldiers. In 1971 Congress adopted Memorial Day as a national holiday to be held the last Monday in May, in honor of all fallen soldiers. So there you have it…there is a distinct purpose for the day. Most of us, myself included, will simply enjoy it as a day off work.
I challenge you, as you’re enjoying a day off, to consider something. Consider how Memorial Day has become infused with essentially honoring all American military, everywhere, in any branch. We already have an Armed Forces Day. But the aforementioned holidays I brought up have essentially turned into a national glorification of all things military. Even the 4th of July is seen as an opportunity to drink beer, light fireworks, and show respect to active and past military. I thought the point was to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence…? I imagine a lot of Americans could not tell me why we signed the Declaration, who wrote it, what it said, what it did, or who we sent it to. And that’s one’s prerogative. But we distort the meaning of these holidays when they all become a generic “honor the military” day.
Author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, famously penned that “…all men were created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” He says all men. Not a few, not just Texans, not just Americans. Even people overseas? Even people in hostile territories and “combatant” countries? They are endowed with the right to life? Is it possible this Memorial Day, as the majority of the country honors all things military, that our military is infringing on people’s rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness? Why is it that America so often adds “but” after we admit that we are meddling in other countries. “Well yes we’re in Ukraine but…” “Well yes we’re in Nigeria but…” “Well yes we’re in Mexico but…”
But what? “But…because we think their leader is bad we have the right to establish bases and infringe on the innate rights of the surrounding people?” As you may or may not be off work this Monday, I challenge you to consider what our Memorial Day means for other countries. At the very least, within its original context, the day is a day to honor the some 620,000 dead soldiers from that most unCivil War. That’s a lot of brothers, fathers, cousins, and uncles. But I guess like George Orwell said… “war is peace.”