On this day, Memorial Day, we are remembering those who gave their lives in the defense of freedom and our democratic-republic. That is what we are supposed to be doing. But is that what this day of remembering really is? Yesterday morning I was watching television, specifically the NBC coverage of the Monaco Grand Prix race while in Phoenix visiting my son and grandson (who is about to turn 15 and is a petulant teenager for sure). While I had heard it all before, nearly every commercial aired during this motor race was advertising a blow out Memorial Day sale. Is this what we have become? Are our memorials, our holidays, set aside so that one can engage in support of commercial interests?
If I were at home, the race would have been seen in a DVR recorded format, one in which I would skip through the commercials allowing me to simply watch the race which is the reason for watching in the first place. But I was in a hotel in Phoenix watching the race live so the commercials were in my face. Blow out car sales, furniture sales, even sales for groceries were simply unavoidable. I began to think about just how disrespectful these commercials are to those soldiers who were conscripted or volunteered to serve our nation in times of war; those for whom a return to the United States came in a coffin. Is this what we have become? A nation ruled by holiday sales without truly understanding the context of the holiday itself?
I am not a supporter of many of the recent wars waged by the United States. I grew up in the Viet Nam era, that most unpopular war waged for the preservation of freedom by Lyndon Johnson. It was a time of protest against the war as well as a national effort to assure that all Americans would be guaranteed civil rights promised by the Constitution of the United States. A time of political unrest inspired by hope for the democracy promised by the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. My own political breeding ground caused me to question the need for war, for killing and being killed for the sake of some political agenda that was far from certain. The wars fought by the United States since that time have done nothing to change my mind. In fact, the most recent, the second Iraq war, a war fought for a flat out lie, merely reinforced the idea that wars are generally without merit. Generally but not exclusively for there are instances when one must rise as a nation and defend itself.
That being said, there remains the sobering fact that when there are wars there will be parents hanging Gold Stars in their windows for their fallen sons and now daughters. Wars cause death, the death of those fighting in them and the civilians caught in the crossfire of battle. Wars cause young people to die well before their time whether they were conscripted into the battlefield or volunteered; the death of soldiers becomes an inevitable fallout from war. It is fully appropriate to honor those for whom war has claimed the ultimate sacrifice. It is not, however, appropriate to infect those deaths with the wanton hubris of corporate America. Memorial day is not a day to celebrate horsepower or fancy couches. It is a day to soberly reflect on the carnage of war; a day to lay wreaths on the graves of soldiers who have fallen in battle. It is a day to consider the folly of the old men in Washington who are so willing to commit the nation’s young men and women to the battlefield while considering the morality of peace. Memorial day is a day to honor those who have fallen not a day to hawk cars or living room suites or even blueberries on sale. Memorial day is a day of great sadness that has turned into a day of picnics, bar-b-ques and selling cars. What a shame.