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Fightin' For

My father was a WWII combat pilot. He flew in Italy, both as part of the RAF (prior to 1941) and then after, as a member of the Army Air Corps. Like a lot of WWII vets, he didn't talk much about his time in the service, but he was fiercely proud of it and this country, sometimes a little too much so (he was very much a "love it or leave it" sort of Ultra Conservative of the time - which I sometimes wonder about, what he'd think about these days).

So I grew up very patriotic myself. I have an American flag on my DashMat (special ordered that way), and I didn't have to go searching for a flag after 9/11 - I always have had one, everywhere I go. I always flew it on the proper flag day occasions, and I hang it in a place of honor within the house rather than trying to fold it properly on my own. The flag that draped Dad's casket is folded correctly, in a triangular oak box with a glass front.

As I grew up and gained my own perspectives, I knew she could often be, and had been, very wrong. But I still loved her and held my head up high at the thought of being American... Then the Iraqi war and W. Bush came along, and I found myself losing a lot of that patriotism. I was for the first time in my life ashamed of America and Americans. I stopped wanting to fly the flag. I felt let down, angry, and more than a little betrayed.

Today I did put out the flag, at noon, like one is supposed to (since I can't fly it half-staff prior to then); and I thought about it. Much of my love of country is obviously still there, it's worked into the fabric of my being. I know that one of the reasons I dislike Bush as much as I do is because I feel he robbed me of that love of country. Made me feel deeply wrong for it.

But today - today is about the Veterans, including my father, who fought for something else. Their Great War was not based on lies and deceit, America was not shoved into it through fearmongering tactics and doctored intelligence. Franklin D. Roosevelt did not declare war on Japan after the Attack on Pearl Harbor and then suddenly up and decide to invade some other country he was irritated with. When he used December 7, 1941, as his Day of Infamy, he didn't continue to use it as a tool to keep Americans fearful. Indeed, well before 12/7, he'd told America that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. He asked Americans to sacrifice, from each soldier and marine and sailor to each man, woman, and child who couldn't go. Everyone in America gave of themselves to win that war, whether it was rationing, scrap metal and paper drives, or housewives taking up tools and going to work. If there ever was a war worth fighting, worth dying for, worth sacrificing for, it was WWII. I heard on the news last night that many Memorial Day parades are being cancelled or simply never being organized because we're losing those WWII vets, Korea and Vietnam vets tend to either not want to march or are simply not as organized, and, according to the news report, veterans of Desert Storm and "Iraqi Freedom" are simply too busy and have other things to do.

I can't blame the soldiers and marines fighting over there for being in a place we shouldn't have been in the first place. But I get angry anew when I'm told I MUST "support the troops!" and any dissent against the war is not supporting them. I'm firmly in the "I support bringing them home" camp, and am saddened so many young men and women have had to die for Bush's folly, so many lives have been destroyed, and nothing good has come of it. We've destroyed a country, driven it to civil war, massively ruined its infrastructure, increased the dangers of simply living there, increased their child/infant mortality rate (one in eight Iraqi children are killed by violence or sickness before the age of five)... and left our own country pretty much helpless to defend ourselves not just against any terrorists, but against nature (there weren't enough National Guard members in Kansas to assist after the tornadoes).

Anyway...


Editorial Observer
What the History of Memorial Day Teaches About Honoring the War Dead

By ADAM COHEN
Published: May 28, 2007

Memorial Day got its start after the Civil War, when freed slaves and abolitionists gathered in Charleston, S.C., to honor Union soldiers who gave their lives to battle slavery. The holiday was so closely associated with the Union side, and with the fight for emancipation, that Southern states quickly established their own rival Confederate Memorial Day.

Over the next 50 years, though, Memorial Day changed. It became a tribute to the dead on both sides, and to the reunion of the North and the South after the war. This new holiday was more inclusive, and more useful to a forward-looking nation eager to put its differences behind it. But something important was lost: the recognition that the Civil War had been a moral battle to free black Americans from slavery.

In “Race and Reunion,” his masterful book about historical memory, David Blight, a professor at Yale, tells the wistful story of Memorial Day’s transformation — and what has been lost as a result. War commemorations, he makes clear, do not just pay tribute to the war dead. They also reflect a nation’s understanding of particular wars, and they are edited for political reasons. Memorial Day is a day not only of remembering, but also of selective forgetting — a point to keep in mind as the Iraq war moves uneasily into the history books.

Many of the early Memorial Day commemorations, Professor Blight notes, were like Charleston’s, paying tribute both to the fallen Union soldiers and to the emancipationist cause. At a ceremony in Maine in 1869, one fiery orator declared that “the black stain of slavery has been effaced from the bosom of this fair land by martyr blood.”

Less than a decade later in 1877 — when Reconstruction ended in the South — at New York City’s enormous Memorial Day celebration, there was much talk of union, and almost none of slavery or race. The New York Herald declared that “all the issues on which the war of rebellion was fought seem dead,” and noted approvingly that “American eyes have a characteristic tendency to look forward.”

There were dissenting voices. Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist leader, continued to insist that Memorial Day should be about the battle between “slavery and freedom, barbarism and civilization.” But the drive to make the holiday a generic commemoration of the Civil War dead won out.

The new Memorial Day made it easier for Northern and Southern whites to come together, and it kept the focus where political and business leaders wanted it: on national progress. But it came at the expense of American blacks, whose status at the end of Reconstruction was precarious. If the Civil War was not a battle to determine whether a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” could “long endure,” as Lincoln declared in the Gettysburg Address, but a mere regional dispute, there was no need to continue fighting for equal rights.

And increasingly the nation did not. When Woodrow Wilson spoke at Gettysburg on the 50th anniversary of the battle, in a Memorial Day-like ceremony, he avoided the subject of slavery, Professor Blight notes, and declared “the quarrel” between North and South “forgotten.” The ceremony was segregated, and a week later Wilson’s administration created separate white and black bathrooms in the Treasury Department. It would be another 50 years before the nation seriously took up the cause of racial equality again.

Since 1913, Memorial Day has changed even more. It has expanded — after World War I, it became a tribute to the dead of all the nation’s wars — while at the same time fading. Today, Memorial Day is little more than the start of summer, a time for barbecues and department store sales. Much would be gained, though, by going back to the holiday’s original meanings.

When Memorial Day began, the war dead were placed front and center. The holiday’s original name, Decoration Day, came from the day’s main activity: leaving flowers at cemeteries. Today, though, we are fighting a war in which great pains have been taken to hide the nearly 3,500 Americans who have died from sight. The Defense Department has banned the photographing of returning caskets, and the president refuses to attend soldiers’ funerals.

Memorial Day also began with the conviction that to properly honor the war dead, it is necessary to honestly contemplate the cause for which they fought. Today we are fighting a war sold on false pretenses, and the Bush administration stands by its false stories. Memorial Day’s history, and its devolution, demonstrates that the instinct to prettify war and create myths about it is hardly new.

But as the founders of the original Memorial Day understood, the only honorable way to remember those who have lost their lives is to commemorate them out in the open, and to insist on a true account.

In many ways, I'm glad Dad isn't alive to see all this, and in more than one selfish way - because I honestly don't know what side of the fence he'd have been on, and I never could win an argument with my father.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
ljs
May. 28th, 2007 11:05 pm (UTC)
A fascinating link, and a fascinating reflection. Thanks.
wildrider
May. 28th, 2007 11:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks.
(Deleted comment)
wildrider
May. 29th, 2007 12:24 am (UTC)
Yeah... it's not that everything was "great" back then - as obvious, from your father's troubles with the whole race thing - but it was at least a cause everyone could believe in (like listening to the Johnny Cash song Ballad of Ira Hayes) then, and everybody did their share.

I forgot to mention my great-uncle, who died in Belgium; of course I never knew him, but his sister (my great-aunt) and my dad always spoke really highly of him.

sillymagpie
May. 29th, 2007 07:47 am (UTC)
I love my country, but I am often at odds with the screwballs in charge. I love the principles on which America was founded. I am never prouder than when we live up to those principles as individuals or a nation, and never sadder or more angry than when we don't.

wildrider
May. 29th, 2007 12:00 pm (UTC)
Yep.

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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