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Memorial Day

by Louis P. Solomon

Memorial Day 2010 has come and gone.  Originally called Decoration Day, it is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. In 1971 Congress established Memorial Day, a United States Federal holiday, to be the last Monday in May in order to establish a three day weekend.

Originally Decoration Day was to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War, but expanded after WWI, and subsequent wars. Today it honors all Americans who have died in the service of the nation.

I think it is a good idea to have such a national day of remembrance. It causes the nation to stop the operations of their daily lives and to reflect upon the people who over the centuries have fought for us as a nation and to honor their memory. It is difficult for me to feel focused personal grief. I do not have any direct members of my immediate family who have fought and died in the nation's wars. There are literally hundreds of thousands of families who are not so lucky. They have lost fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, sons, daughters, and other members of their extended family tree in the service of the nation. They grieve personally with focus.

On Memorial Day I let myself ramble through the history of the United States and think about the brave men and women who put themselves on the line to perserve our way of life. This way of life has broad and varied limits. As Americans we believe in many different methods of living our lives. We represent many different political views, religious beliefs, countries of origin, and historical antecedents. Perhaps the common thread among Americans is their belief that the future will hold a better life with more opportunities then was lived by their parents, grandparents, etc. While this is not true in all cases, the great preponderance of people living in this country have prospered and enjoyed the freedom of thought and action which our fallen heroes fought to protect and allow to continue to exist. And we have a political and social history that says their sacrifices have not been in vain. While there are many things in the society of the United States of 2010 that are not perfect, we have made advances in a large number of areas. For example Civil Rights of today for all our citizens is part of the law of the land. Equality between all Americans does not exist everywhere, but it certainly is much closer to genuine equality than (say) 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago. Education is universal; women have made notable strides for equality of position and pay. Remember that women only obtained the vote in 1920: less than 100 years ago.

I am sure that I could continue and paint a picture that is rosy and looks only brighter with time. But that is not what I think about. What distresses me is when I think about the men and women who have fought and died for our country trying to make it better and more egalitarian.  I ask myself if the politicians who are our elected representatives think of this when they enact legislation. I know that politicians are speakers on Memorial Day at various celebrations. They lay wreaths, give moving speeches, and in general show their support for our honored dead. I expect that. But, what about their actions after the day is over?

One of the characteristics of the men and women who died fighting for the United States was the support for their fellows. Read the accounts of the Medal of Honor winners. The accounts of their willingness to try to protect their buddies are impossible to read without being moved by their selflessness. Listen to the tales of the men and women who enlisted to help protect the  country in time of need. Now ask yourself: do you see that devotion and bravery in our political representatives? Are they ready to risk loss of their political career to enact something which they know is good for the country?

I am certain that there have been political representatives that have fought for legislation which was good for the American people as a whole. Read John F. Kennedy's “Profile in Courage,” as an example. But it is my distinct impression that politicians generally take the posture that remaining in office is their primary duty to the country: a posture that I find highly questionable. Does this posture coincide with what is honored on Memorial Day? I think not.

Memorial Day honors those who have fought and died for this country. This is entirely fitting and proper, and I am glad to have such a day. But I am uneasy and concerned that our political representatives who give such wonderful speeches on Memorial Day do not honor the fallen heroes through their actions. There are politicians who fight and sometimes die (figuratively) in support of the good of the American Dream. But it is my impression that there are not many, and that saddens me and causes me to worry about the future of the United States if we, as a people, do not express ourselves forcibly at the ballot box. At all levels the political structure in the United States there are politicians who have acted; watch them and express yourselves at the ballot box. Vote for them, or against them, based upon what they have done for us, the citizens of the country, and not what they have said on Memorial Day.

© May 2011 Louis P. Solomon and Maryland 20878®

 

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