It is not the warrior or soldier that I despise, but the sad fact that war is necessary in the first place. Even worse is the regrettable tendency we have as a nation to glorify the act.
Memorial Day, however, is a different story. It’s evolved since its inception in 1865, as Decoration Day, as a day to honor each and every American who died while serving our country, in all wars. Originally, the holiday was held in remembrance of the Union Soldiers who fought and died in the Civil War – by the freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, known as Freedmen – but most people aren’t aware of that little historical tidbit.
Unfortunately – as with most American holidays – the true meaning of Memorial Day tends to get lost in the mix most of the time.
Whether it’s celebrating Christmas two months early, associating Thanksgiving with turkey, football and stuffing rather than a celebration of peace and a good harvest, buying bags upon bags of candy for the kids on Halloween or celebrating the Fourth of July with fireworks and barbecues while taking no time to reflect on our country’s independence, we’ve allowed commercialism, laziness and ignorance to pollute our national and religious holidays.
Memorial Day is no different really, when you think about it. Often, its true meaning is disregarded, ignored or – far too often – forgotten altogether. I mean, how many parents these days take the time to teach their children what the parades and flag-raising ceremonies taking place across the country on May 30 truly represent? I’m sure some do but, at the same time, I’m sure there are many who don’t.
But Memorial Day should be more than just a start to the summer vacation season, flea markets and antique auto shows. As a nation, it’s important for us to remember that. And while I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the Vietnam Memorial or the Arlington National Cemetery, let’s just say that, when I do, I know it will be an experience I’ll never forget.
Andy Rooney – who at one point in time expressed his opposition to World War II on the grounds that he was a pacifist – had a change of heart after visiting the Nazi concentration camps near the end of the Second World War. That experience alone convinced one of the most respected journalists on the planet that there was such a thing as a “just” war. I think what he was getting at is that there are certainly times when war is an necessary evil, but that doesn’t change its hellish nature.
What can I say, when in doubt I always turn to Mr. Rooney. He’s kind of like the Jimi Hendrix of journalism in my mind, a true inspiration.
“Too many young men and women with a whole life ahead of them are getting killed before they have a chance to live it, and for what? Of all the things that men do – historically mostly men – fighting a war to kill other men is the most uncivilized.” said Rooney on 60 Minutes back in November of 2009. “Wars have been fought through time and we may think we’re more civilized now than people were 100 or 500 years ago, but there’s no sign that fighting wars is a thing of the past. There’s always one going on somewhere.”
He’s absolutely right, of course, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore – or ever forget – the significance of Memorial Day. Taking some time to remember the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our country – even if it’s only once a year – is the least we can do.
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