D.R.: Today’s Memorial Day
We sat on the deck this morning, my wife and I, sipping coffee, taking in the warmth of another spectacular mountain day, planning for the future.
More cotton trees would go there; wonder how much would a backhoe cost for digging the seasonal spring pond deeper; clear this area; need to tear out the master bathroom, pull out the carpet in the living room, re-do the lock-off; buck up the logs on the other side of the creek, then get into that maze a giant fallen cottonwood created below the dam. Oh yeah, finish the master bedroom so we can move back from the other living room, the cool one with all the windows.
Some neighbors are home, relaxing. Others are on long-weekend trips. More tourists than you might think are visiting. Summer’s fun for most of America begins with Memorial Day weekend.
And a few, very few, are making somber treks to graveyards or attending memorial ceremonies that provide the reason for the holiday. It’s been along time since the Civil War’s end, when Memorial Day, then named Decoration Day, began as a national remembrance.
No war has compared with that one for America. Since then, only World War II brought a taste of the fear and impact on the U.S. citizenry that the Civil War did, and that was faint by comparison.
Iraq is a burr. The political left squeals as if it were a saber in the gut. The right exaggerates about the infection to come, much as it did during Vietnam.
American military deaths in Iraq are approaching 3,500 at just over four years. The Civil War took nearly 700,000 soldiers’ lives in about the same time, when our population was a fraction of today’s.
Yes, the stastical pinpricks make the loss of a crewmate, friend, brother, husband, son no easier to take . But the cold truth is that war increasingly has become remote for Americans.
For the overwhelming majority of us, war is politics far more than personal loss. That is to say, this is abstract.
I’ll submit that’s mostly a very good thing. World War II was the last war for Americans that bore the concrete reality of hundreds of thousands of warriors who died in combat. That’s an awful lot of time for an awful lot of families planting flowers in the wake of that one. Memorial Day was big then.
Even the 58,000 or so deaths in Vietnam were a far cry from World War II. A relative few, mostly poor families suffered personal losses. Mainly, this one was politics.
War is real, of course, for the men and women who serve in the military. The 8-10 percent who are maimed in Iraq instead of killed, well, war is concrete for them, too.
My grandfather served in World War II, and my dad as a boy watched the attack on Pearl Harbor from the roof of his house miles away. Later my father served in Korea at the end of that war. I came no closer than the Forest Service, when between Vietnam and the Iraqi conflicts it actually was more dangerous fighting fire than soldiering.
Today’s Memorial Day for nearly all 300 million Americans is a holiday. That we’re largely free of the pain that created the day in the first place is a good thing, however much some may sniff at that thought and find the rest of us ungrateful.
The danger does not lie in our level of gratitude, though. It’s that we forget the pain that war causes. And then have to live all that again, bringing the real meaning of Memorial Day back.
I think I’d choose planning summer from the deck over coffee every time over that.
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