I wish we treated Memorial Day differently.

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

I’ve thought for the last few days that I should write something for Memorial Day, but nothing has come. 

I’m afraid (in the apologetic sense of “afraid”. I’m actually quite thankful) that I have little to personally memorialize. 

I am, of course, thankful in the abstract to all the lives lost in previous wars, the ones that built the world I live in. 

Thank you to those who fought for America’s Independence. You had lofty ideas, and did everything you could to execute them. 

Thank you to all the brothers torn asunder in a fight against each other during the Civil War. We’ll try not to do it again. 

And thank you to all the Americans who went overseas to stop Nazis. If ever a cause was just, it was punching Nazis. I’m sorry we’ve let you down on that one. 

There have been other wars, of course, and many a “conflict”, but since I can’t tell the difference between those two, I’ll just say thanks. I love the world I live in today, so thank you to anyone or anything that helped create it. 

Also (and I know you may not like this terribly much), I’m sorry. 

I was born into the generation that watched the Twin Towers fall from their elementary classroom. Like with my previous statements, my initial reaction was in the abstract. Planes hitting buildings is bad. It wasn’t until everyone’s parents came to the bus stop to pick us up from school that I became personally scared. The adults were afraid. 

I’ve been lucky enough not to have anyone I know be in direct combat. 

It’s such a loaded phrase, direct combat. I combat the heat every time summer rolls around despite how I don’t want it to. I combat the temperamental burner on my stove that wants to be really, really sure my food gets done by switching to high when I try to put it on low. I combat the stink bugs trying to make their way into my apartment by swarms. They have no respect for personal space, and I gently pick them up and take them outside whenever we meet. That’s a fairly direct way of combating, but we all know that’s not what the phrase implies. 

No, “direct combat” means war. You were in a war. They spread it out and broke it up into little bite-sized chunks as if no one would notice. 

I’ve never been in direct combat, but I imagine you would notice. 

I’ve never had much experience with war. I’ve been lucky that way. So I don’t have much I can say about it myself. I think it would be better if I defer to a war veteran, Kurt Vonnegut. He famously said this about war: “Poo-tee-weet?”

(…) there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”

Kurt Vonnegut, “Slaughterhouse-Five”

I don’t mean this to say I am not thankful to those who served. In my opinion, one of the most tragic things about war is how many people involved didn’t choose it. Those who were drafted, those who were given no other choice but war or poverty (aka “the lucky”), or those who made the choice but then came to feel like they were “served” a bunch of lies. Lies like honor or glory, lies that have convinced people since before the Romans. War is hardly new, even if we use different tools and call it things like direct combat.

I believe in Memorial Day. We should take a least one day to remember our tragedies. Those who do not remember their history are doomed to repeat it, after all. We owe those who have served at least a memory. It’s my opinion that we owe them a commodity nameless, faceless battalions of soldiers the world over so rarely have — individual voices. Voices like these, speaking of or for those who have served.

Read for yourself. https://twitter.com/USArmy/status/1131704927963766785

I know one Twitter thread is hardly anything, but it’s still remarkable to me how universal the responses are. 

It’s not for me to make a judgment call here. I made the decision a long time ago that my life would have nothing to do with the military. I am fortunate to have these choices. 

So probably I am wrong. Probably I am in the minority. 

But I wish, as a society, we spent Memorial Day with a little less PTSD-triggering fireworks, a little less celebration, furniture sales, and fairs. I wish our gratitude granted a little more sorrow, a little more mourning, and a lot more listening. 

Because I can’t speak for anyone else, but my Memorial Day is about the people, not about the success of the wars. 

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