Monday, May 28, 2007

Naming the Day

He's too stupid even to merit contempt. We should just ignore him. I've seen his rantings a few times before, and because this is a public forum, there's nothing I can do to exclude or censor him. A lot of these sorts of sites have a moderator or something, but I don't know who's in charge here. Ah well, you take the bad with the good.

I'm sure there was no satirical intent. He's missed the point entirely. It's called Memorial Day. Not Heroic Statue Day or whatever he was raving about.

So the question is, what's it about? Well, remembering, of course. But I said as much last year. Remembering isn't enough. We remember the horrible things more than the good -- that's how it seems to be with me, anyway. Especially now, at this time in history, my take on it is not remembering, but agreeing. Men are sent to wars, and die in them, not to be remembered, but to achieve a purpose. If their purpose is wrong, they are fools and dupes, killing and dying for a wrong cause. It is only a jingoistic idealism that could imagine that this is noble. Yes, it is noble, in a way -- self-sacrifice and all that ... noble. But in terms of practical effect, dying and killing for a wrong cause just adds to the entropy and agony of the universe. Not noble in the least.

We remember the victims of Nazism -- we memorialize them. There is no approval of anything in such remembrance. Any memorial for them is purely admonitional. There is nothing of this, in our Memorial Day. It is a more specific version of Thanksgiving. It is the day we set aside to remember, if we do, those who have, specifically, died fighting in American wars on the American side. True, there is some awkwardness in this definition, regarding the Civil War. Even when we clarify the matter by inserting the word "freedom" somewhere in there, it's still cloudy. The South wanted to be free to have and spread slavery. Let us ignore this anomaly.

Because it is, fundamentally, about freedom. That's the subtext of Memorial Day. That's the point of America. We could never honor those who died fighting for tyranny. Mourn for them, respect their courage, commiserate their folly, hope for their redemption -- we might even use the word and evoke the sentiment, but something must be withheld, that prevents our feeling from graduating into full-blown honor. It's a matter of definitions. America, by definition, must be about liberty. Anyone who dies for the American cause must, by definition, have died for social liberty and individual freedom. Self-serving? You might very well think so. If so, I invite you to memorialize Nazis and suicide bombers and jingoistic chauvinists. For my part, I will have none of that.

There are those who claim to support the soldiers while repudiating the war they fight. If they're talking about the Black Hawk War, they may have a point. Perhaps the Spanish American War. But for any within the past hundred years, to oppose our wars is to oppose the fight for freedom. Perhaps freedom isn't worth fighting for. Perhaps. That would be a matter of personal opinion. There is the embarrassing fact, though, that personal opinion is protected only by the widespread respect for personal liberty -- which has been won, and sustained, by our continuing wars against tyranny -- authoritarian, Nazi, Communist, Baathist, islamist.

But this is a complex subject, and evidence is often embarrassing. What is clear is that on one side the tactics of choice include terrorism and repression, while on the other side there are rules of engagement and an institutional respect for humanity. Examine the fruit and you know the tree, down to the roots -- family or genus, if not species.

That's what it is, then. It's not Dead Soldier Day. Any society could have that. It's not Remember Heroes Day. Heroism is hardwired into the human soul, and like a recessive gene it must make an occasional appearance, no matter what the country or culture. No. This day is specifically American. It's Why We Have Freedom Day.


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