Today is Memorial day here in the US of A. There was a parade down the main street here in town. The kids were thrilled to see the fire trucks and the marching band. They were befuddled by the ceremony held at the memorial plaque out in front of the fires station. I did my best to convey to them that it was important to remember the dead. They understood, to some extent, that the wreaths placed there were gifts to the dead to honor them. They’re familiar with the concept of giving offerings to the gods, so an offering to the dead was a logical extension that was easy for them to grasp.
At one point, my youngest looked up at me and asked why it was important to remember the dead. My answer was that they gave a lot to provide for the living and remembering them is a way to honor them and thank them. I looked around at the people in my community and I found myself feeling mixed emotions. On one hand, they were all quite happy to watch the parade and fell respectfully silent when the ritual obligations of speaking solemn words and laying wreaths were performed. At the same time, there was a prevailing opinion that today’s observances were about venerating the people who died for our ‘freedom’ and a great deal of political quarterbacking was going on.
I may offend some folks with this, but not everyone who died in the military died for our freedom. It has been a very long time since that happened. Their deaths served diverse things, often political games of the day. The nationalist blabber that I heard to either side of me as I stood on the side of the parade route made me feel a heavy sense of sorrow. The song being sold by the politicians right now is not the truth and it sullies the sacrifices made by these people. Each member of the military died for reasons given by the government, yes, and much of that is propaganda. But more of them died for the sake of brotherhood.
Talk with any person who served in combat and they’ll tell you more about death for the sake of keeping your team mates alive than they’ll tell you about death for the sake of some lofty ideal. Oh yes, there is this ideal that moves men to march to war and press through the grist mill of combat. The ideal changes of each war but the rank and file are not concerned about the ideal that brought about the conflict once they are in the heat of battle. No, they are on the killing fields doing their best to complete the task given to them and keep themselves alive as they do so.
Remember the dead. The military dead were sent into war for reasons that even today may be questioned. This does not diminish their sacrifice. The dead of the Union and Confederate armies lie with equal honor in the Earth. They died, as all who go into battle have, doing their best to keep their honor and their company hale. They are not unique. All of the military deaths have provided the rivers of blood that tempered the mettle of the nation into what it is today. Let us remember them and honor their sacrifice. We, their descendants, would be wise to do so.
Let us remember the sacrifices that were made to forge the world we live in today. And let us remember them as we make our own sacrifices to shape the future and learn from the wisdom of the past.