I am never quite sure what to do with Memorial Day.
I put out my flag this morning, and knotted a stars-and-stripes tie around my neck. I went to work, as many Americans do … and I would have stayed home or traveled if I could have, as many other Americans do.
I want to honor those who gave their lives on behalf of my country.
But I don’t want to glorify the wars that took so many of them from us.
I don’t want to perpetuate a picture that war is somehow noble, and that soldiers die with the intention and goal of preserving our nation and its better qualities, and that they universally succeed just by having died.
Some of them chose to go to war. Some were conscripted. Some died to protect their fellow soldiers. Some died in a hail of bullets, storming a beach or a fortress or an onrushing enemy. Some died tending the wounded, building a bridge, feeding the troops, digging a trench, sitting in a dark wet flithy place … terrified and out of ammunition and hopeless and weeping. Others died from malaria, influenza, a host of fatal infections. Some starved. Some were taken prisoner and tortured and executed. Some were obliterated by missiles, bombs, artillery shells, mines, grenades and the hosts of cowardly weaponry that we call modern mechanized warfare. Some perished by drowning, in accidents, by “friendly” fire intentional and unintentional, by seizures and heart attacks and strokes and sheer terror. And let’s be honest, some could not handle the heinous hellishness of it and ended their own lives.
That doesn’t even begin to cover all who survived, but in the aftermath survived without full health, or limbs, or the wholeness of emotional stability or even sanity.
I honor them all. They lived and died (and some lived half-lives again) at their country’s call.
But no country should send its strong and smart young people into war as a solution of first resort, and that has happened too often.
However these many suffered and died, and for whatever cause, if they did so even nominally to preserve freedom of choice in our land, then I think the rest of us owe it to them (as well as to each other) to choose more wisely, to choose our leaders with more care, to choose to insist that our leaders see to it that those who fight and build and serve and defend and die on behalf of the rest of us always receive the best chance they can have to succeed and survive and recover.
And that includes keeping them out of war’s harm until all the other options have been exhausted.
All of them. Every time.
I don’t know how to say the phrase “Happy Memorial Day” anymore. It’s just not a happy holiday.
We can work or barbecue or vacation or play in gratitude for what others have done, sure.
But at what cost.