A good friend of mine had had it. While watching TV over the weekend, he’d come across an ad for some supra-national chain of stores promising great holiday discounts and wishing shoppers a “Happy Memorial Day,” and he was furious. “That just pisses me off. That’s not what Memorial Day is about. Or the beach… or the lake… or barbecue. It’s about our fallen soldiers. The men who died so you can do all those things. Please don’t forget that.”
Memorial Day is supposed to be a day set aside for Americans to mark the heroes who didn’t make it home from the many wars, police actions, peacekeeping operations, advisory postings and/or counter-terrorism missions to which we have dispatched our service personnel throughout the years. In theory, it’s a solemn affair marked by wreath-laying, “taps” playing and prayer saying. Thirty percent off at the electronics stores and special military discounts at auto dealerships are gross misappropriations of what ought to be less celebratory and more somber. Save the super-sales for days that don’t commemorate the costliest of sacrifices laid upon the altar of American freedom.
Of course, my friend is right. There’s an ugliness inherent in a society which purports to honor its fallen heroes with deep discounts on flat-panel televisions and midsize sedans. There’s a consumerist soullessness which obviates any sense of the liberty for which service personnel have been laying down their lives since the dawning of the American age. Surely, no one who turned Memorial Day into “2.9 percent APR financing on a new minivan” can claim to understand meeting death at Belleau Wood, Bataan, Bien Hoa or Bagram.
And yet, my friend is also wrong. Misguided attempts at honoring fallen heroes, misunderstanding the nature of a day set aside specifically for that purpose and even virtually defiling the idea in order to sling cut-rate Chinese imports to people who couldn’t care less is kinda the reason for the season, as it were.
Americans are shallow, crude and oblivious to the trials and tribulations of life in the sorts of places to which liberals promise to move. Not only do a sizeable portion of our compatriots not understand the purpose of Memorial Day, another sizeable portion of our compatriots openly object to the whole idea in the first place. And yet, every single one of us, from the most ardent patriot to the most arrogant communist, right-, wrong- or even empty-headed, gets to sleep peaceably in their beds because of those same men and women celebrated on Memorial Day. And every one of those men and women died so that we could continue being shallow, crude and oblivious. One could even make the case that today’s U.S. serviceman or woman, a willing part of an all-volunteer force, is even more aware — even painfully so — of that for which they’re risking their lives.
We already have a day for thanking veterans for their service; it’s rather conveniently called Veteran’s Day. In truth, every day ought to be Veteran’s Day. After all, these are the men and women who have done every bit of heavy lifting required to keep the lights on in our shining city on the hill. Hyperbole aside, it’s the men and women who have stood ready to violence on our behalf that have made it possible for us to keep sleeping relatively peaceably lo these two and half American centuries. My friend is right to be appalled that too many of us don’t know the difference. But rather than focus on the meaning behind Memorial Day, I say it’s high time to focus on the cost.
I’m sure an E-3 currently stuck in Mazar-e-Sharif would be more than happy to hear someone wish him “Happy Memorial Day” at the Best Buy, if it meant that he was alive to hear it. He would know they were getting their holidays mixed up; maybe that they didn’t even care that much, outside watching Saving Private Ryan when it comes on TNT. My friend is right. It would be better if we understood that wishing an active duty serviceman or veteran a “Happy Memorial Day” is like wishing someone “Happy Your Brother Died in Front of You Day.” But the real problem isn’t that too many Americans don’t know the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day, the real problem is that too many of our heroes don’t get the chance to explain it.
— Ben Crystal