Memorial Day: The Annual Glorification of War (When You Step Away From the Grill, That Is)

wallMemorial Day always fills me with conflict, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. If anyone stops for just a moment from the grilling and the pool openings, or pauses as they sit in traffic on the way to or from the beach, they must also be struck by the absurdity of these activities given the true meaning of this Memorial Day.

As someone who was educated in Quaker schools, and whose parents were a natural fit for their Foreign Service careers (i.e., diplomats), I am very much anti war. Yet I am also a student of Political Science, and I have have studied how humans have solved disagreements for thousands of years. So I cannot say that I am “anti military,” because unfortunately, we have created enough ridiculously powerful weapons that could easily be used against us by any number of crazed people. So we need to have the security of a standing military. (And yes, I realize that is an incredibly brief and ridiculously short explanation for the need for military. I apologize to all my old Poli Sci classmates!)

And just look at my profile picture, for goodness sakes. I’m a flag-waver from way back!

I know many good people who have served in the military, friends and family. In fact, I think I have mentioned before on this day that my father and two of his three brothers all served in WWII. Fortunately, all three survived to return home — including my uncle Bob who was sent to Normandy just two days after the landing. I cannot imagine the anguish of my grandmother as she held her one remaining son, still in high school, and waited for word of the others. But my father and uncles all enlisted, because it was the right thing to do. If you met any of them, you would not take them for “military types,” whatever that may be. I mean, they are as patriotic as the next person, but they had other career interest, other plans, that did not involve guns, ships, or walking over dead bodies on the beaches of France.

On Memorial Day we get a day off of work so that we can honor and remember those who have died in war. Like everyone else, we attended a cookout yesterday, and then last night we tried to watch the annual Memorial Day Concert at the Capitol. But we couldn’t do it. Never before have I felt war so dramatized and romanticized as it was last night — even in the Bush Years. From the Civil War to the War in Afghanistan, images of young men and women dead and injured appeared on the screen. Their bravery is unquestionable. But was their death and injury necessary?

And where oh where are the images of those in power sitting at their desks sending others off to their death?

Our goal should be to end war, not to glorify it. This day of remembrance should be an examination of the devastation of war — to soldiers and civilians around the world. We must stand up and say “no more.” The marching bands, the statues, the waving flag: what do they mean to the young soldier in Afghanistan right now — or to the mother and child who run from our bombs?

image credit: AFP
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4 comments

  1. thank you for the very thoughtful post.

    i would bet many americans think of memorial day only as that monday off late in may that is the official kick off of summer, nothing more!

  2. Bravo! As a veteran, I can tell you that the only people who glorify war are those who have never experienced it.

  3. Thanks guys. And Morgan, thank you for sharing your background. I thought long and hard about how to write this post because I really wanted to get across that I value the veterans.

    Everyone should go right now and read “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortensen. (Well, wait until I finish this thought, then go.) One of many profound stories in this book is when Mortensen, a former Army medic who began a personal mission to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, went to the Pentagon and met Donald Rumsfeld, then Secretary of Defense. Mortensen writes that the meeting was brief and cursory, but he was struck by how expensive and shiny Rumsfeld’s shoes were, as he sat behind his desk in the Pentagon.

    I suddenly thought of Rumsfeld’s shoes when I was watching footage this weekend of all the wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan ….

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