Remembering on Memorial Day
If you pause for a few seconds to think about it, the way we mark Memorial Day is outrageous. For most Americans this day is about cookouts, trips to the mall, and a day off from work. The idea that we party and continue our exuberant spending rather than to remember our war dead should deeply offend any American. But who wants to slow the wheels of commerce to grieve?
Remembrance was not helped by our previous president, who told us that our patriotic duty during the Iraq War was to continue shopping. That’s a far cry from previous wars, when Americans were taught about shared sacrifice. I’m no fan of war, but if we have decided to go to war, then the cause had better be compelling (this one was not), the true costs of the war should be known (they were not), and the war effort should be shared by the whole nation, not just by our military (who tend to come from among the poor).
So, let us at least pause on Memorial Day. Let’s stop the din of cash registers and backyard grills. Let us remember the reason for this holiday. On Memorial Day, we are meant to remember our war dead — all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. This is not to be a jingoistic celebration of American might, but a somber remembrance. We would do well not to invoke “God bless America” today, but rather to join with Abraham Lincoln in praying for God’s mercy and in hope that we are “on God’s side.”
What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, —
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them at all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of silent minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.