When a soldier goes to war, the family goes to war. There was a time when soldiers went to war, the community went to war. Virtually every township and neighborhood had a family member in uniform. Sacrifices, both personal and corporate were distributed throughout the community. Now, it would take a modern day Diogenes to find an honest sacrifice.
In 21st century wars of assimilation (most undeclared), there is a dwindling level of support and sacrifice for the actual war effort. Ironically, American morale for supporting the troops is at an all-time high, but we are in a total state of disconnect from the conduct of war and its combatants. T.S. Elliot wondered, “How much reality can humankind handle?” Are we simply in overload mode?
The April, 1966 cover of Time Magazine featured the “God Is Dead Movement.” The phrase was immediately misunderstood, losing much of its intention to inform us that we had lost the symbolic language about God, and thereby lost the experience of God in our daily existence. Is it possible that war is dead in America?
“Only the dead know the end of war,” said the philosopher Plato, yet, how will one know the memories of war and its dead if not through the living who have borne the battle?
Without a syntax for war, its meaning dies before the soldier.
Author Mark Thompson, writing for Time magazine on November 10, 2011, suggests our armed forces and civil society are drifting apart. His characterization of “an army apart” is accurate and confirmed by active duty troops. We now have a highly-trained population of professional military volunteers who continuously at war for nearly 20 years, yet that irony surfaces again as they represent only a 0.5% slice of the population. This is the lowest percentage of Americans serving in the Armed Forces since before World War I.
Our voluntary combatants are primarily poor kids and patriots from the lower socioeconomic strata. The upper crust of American society is mostly AWOL from war, yet they are the ones making decisions about war. In the 1970′s, 77% of our lawmakers were veterans. That percentage has now slipped to 22%. War and the memory of war is pretty much dead in the personal lives of those on Capitol Hill.
On this Memorial Day, we reverently march on with profound respect and honor for all Americans who have died in battle from the Boston Massacre to the streets of Kabul. Since its inception as Decoration Day after the American Civil War when freed slaves sang songs of praise for their liberation by Union soldiers, we continue this most sacred of federal holidays. Yet, it may be time to refresh our memories of war itself, and the consequent sacrifices that are charged to a citizenry adhering to the Constitutional dictum, “to provide for the common defense” – the operative word being, “common.”
The day-to-day, hour-to-hour reality of providing for the common defense begs to be memorialized on this day so as to not trivialize the sacrifices of those who died for the common good.
On Memorial Day, the American flag is swiftly run up to the top of its staff, and then quietly, reverently lowered to half mast in recognition of the millions who gave their all for this land of the free and home of the brave. In some traditions, that flag remains at half mast until noon, when the memory of the dead is raised with the flag by the survivors resolved to never allow those sacrifices in defending our Constitution to be in vain.
In the week after Memorial Day, find a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine, and ask them to tell you their saga of war and of those they lost. You will then experience the meaning of Memorial Day.
Michael Patrick Brewer, Combat Veteran/ U.S. Marine Corps