Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

“We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies”

“In Flowers Fields” - Moina Michaels 1915

Today is Memorial Day and I have spent the morning reflecting upon its meaning and about what the day truly means to me. Of course I know that the holiday is intended as a day of remembrance for those who died in the service of our country. I also know that as is the case with most holidays, their original meanings and traditions have rapidly faded from our collective National conscience. How profound is the power of reflection…to purposely ponder issues and ideas in an effort to understand the very reason for their existence.

Memorial Day was first called Decoration Day and it was intended to honor those who died in the service of our country. Many towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, though Waterloo, NY was officially given that distinction by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966. Though the origins of the day may remain in question, the intent of the day is not, to honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms in the defense of our nation and its values. Proclaimed by National Commander of the Army, General John Logan in 1868, the first Memorial Day Holiday was celebrated on May 30th of the same year. In post Civil War America, Memorial Day was seen as an opportunity to eliminate divisions, to reconcile the North and the South, and to honor those on both sides of the conflict who gave their lives. However, it was not until immediately after World War I that Memorial Day changed from remembering those who died in the Civil War to honoring all Americans who died in any war. Congress inadvertently diminished the importance of the day when it passed the National Holiday Act of 1971, making all federal holidays such as Memorial Day a three-day weekend. In doing so the day became less about the remembrance of those who died for our freedoms, than it did about backyard barbeques, pool parties and the Indianapolis 500…in other words, it became just another three-day weekend. The government has tried on several occasions to re-educate and to remind Americans about the true meaning of the holiday with little or no success. If we are to remember and honor those who died in defense of this country, I think that we have an obligation to possess a cursory understanding of the history and the significance of the day. We have an obligation to remember those who sacrificed their lives for this country, regardless of political ideology or popular public opinion. For many, today is a day of remembrance and a time to honor those who served and died for this country. For others, the mothers who lost a son; the fathers who lost a daughter; the children who lost a parent, it is a time of profound loss and numbing grief.

We cannot assign blame or view one conflict as being morally superior to another, when honoring those who have defended this nation. Given the current political environment in this country and the growing lack of public support for the war in Iraq, it is easy to forget or to downplay the current sacrifices of our men and women in the armed forces. If you recall, our country turned its back on its veterans who fought in Vietnam, another political quagmire and a hugely unpopular war. Then as now, we hear eerily similar government propaganda in an effort to justify this country’s actions. We hear of a need to stem the tide of a dangerous ideology, then communism and now Islamic fundamentalism, in an attempt to prevent a “domino effect” from taking place. Today, the “domino effect” refers to the threat of Middle Eastern countries falling one after the other under the influence of Islamic fundamentalist. In Vietnam, the “domino effect” referred to the threat of third-world countries similarly falling under the influence of communist ideology. In both cases our government cited the benefits of fighting the enemy "over there" as opposed to on American soil…sound familiar? Ironically, then as now, we were told that we are winning the war and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The point is that during the Vietnam War, we at home found it difficult to separate the war from the warrior, as our soldiers…our kids…returned home only to be spit upon. We must guard against the same injustices from happening today. The Iraq War is in many ways as unpopular a War as was Vietnam. However, the Americans troops fighting in Iraq do so at the direction of a misguided politician. It is not for them to decide who our enemies are and are not. They do not decide which country is friend or foe. They are men and women who willingly place their lives on the line every day in service of this country and they deserve our support and our respect. Today many will remember with pride the sacrifices of those who perished in World War II & I and many will honor the dignity of those who died in Korea. They will do so because history has deemed them as morally just wars, clearly pitting good verses evil. However, we can never allow the unpopular politics of a specific war to taint the valor or minimize the sacrifice of the warrior. So today we must equally remember, respect and honor those who fought and died in wars such as Vietnam, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq even if we disdain the politics and the politicians who declared them.

I have never been forced to grieve the death of a family member lost on the field of battle. I have never faced the reality of a son or daughter heading off to war in a far away and foreign land. I realize that I have been shielded from this in great measure by the heroic sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. So today, I remember those who are responsible for the freedoms that I enjoy and I honor those who have died to protect them. I am grateful to those who fight for this country every day, even though I may not agree with the politics that place them in harms way. I do so today with a newfound understanding of what Memorial Day should mean not only to me but also to others. I do so with the hope that today, on this Memorial Day, you will choose to do the same.

1 comment:

Neha Kaushik said...

Critically speaking its a very good write.We do owe so much to these men who fight without any fear and personal interests but still there sacrifices go unnotice.
It truely reflects the condition of our system and its indifference towards our heros.
oh ya i forgot to say thanx for your comment.Thanx for your kind words