Sunday, May 30, 2010
Memorial Day Memories
By Alan Caruba
I have a few enduring Memorial Day memories. Most involve my Dad who never served in the military, being too young for the First World War and too old for the Second twenty years later.
Even so, there was never a Memorial Day in Maplewood, NJ when we did not go down to the park, also named Memorial, and watch the veterans, the police and fire units, the Boy and Girl Scouts, and the high school band march to the grassy area where town officials would give speeches about the fallen heroes. Little Maplewood had its share that had served in all of the nation’s wars.
Even as a child I understood my Father’s pride in his nation and in those who had fought to protect its liberty. Later, when I was in the military my other memory was marching through downtown Columbus, Georgia during the Memorial Day parades.
It is a different kind of holiday from Fourth of July. It’s about remembrance. It is focused on those whom Lincoln said gave their last full measure of devotion to their nation.
It is a sober holiday, but it is also a day for picnics and barbecues. In a way, those who died are honored by the mundane activities in which we engage on a day dedicated to their memory. They would have done the same had they lived.
What strikes me most is the way, then and now, so many young men enlisted to fight our wars. Others accepted conscription and fought bravely too. What is so very different is today’s all-volunteer military. Nobody has to sign up for duty, but they do.
The demarcation line came in the 1970s when Americans, seeing the carnage of war in Vietnam on their nightly television news, watching the casualty numbers grow, gradually came together to protest year after year until the conflict ended.
While we have great pride in our military, regarding it more highly than other element of our government, Americans have become detached from the bloodletting of war. They are fought at great distances. Mostly, Americans are highly resistant to any losses in battle despite the records in past wars of literally thousands of casualties. Those were wars we needed to win.
The news lately was of the one thousandth casualty in Afghanistan. We have been there since shortly after 9/11. We lose 40,000 people to death on our highways every year; more by far than the totals of those we have lost in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It doesn’t make it any less painful for their families, but in the long battle for freedom, it is a remarkably small price to pay and the extraordinary part is that there are still heroes willing to pay the price.
Plato said it best. “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
© Alan Caruba, 2010