Today is a day of hot dogs and Bar-B-Q’s and family picnics. A day when the great unwashed can relax and watch NCIS marathons while drinking beer and waving a little flag. All of that is well and good since the closest most of us ever get to war is watching a rerun of Patton on TV or reading a Tom Clancy novel. And that is the best tribute I can think of to pay our troops. They have sacrificed themselves on foreign lands to keep our shores free from violence. That is not some opaque abstraction, it is raw truth. Men and women from all walks of life have shed their blood and given their lives so the likes of you and I can rest a little easier.
Even so there are those who, from the safety of their recliners, demand extremism in response to every perceived slight. Some of those advocate pure pacifism even if it means the loss of whatever liberties remain. To them I can only say that the idea is sound, a world without violence is a laudable goal, but its execution is flawed since we do not live in such a world. Then there are others who demand, loudly, to know why we don’t deplete our nuclear stockpile whenever we are wronged. To them I note that there is a reason, and a very good one. Many people have issued a response to that call, but the clearest is probably Robert Heinlein’s from his 1959 book, Starship Troopers.
If you wanted to teach a baby a lesson, would you cut its head off? Of course not. You’d paddle it. There can be circumstances when it’s just as foolish to hit an enemy city with an H-bomb as it would be to spank a baby with an axe. War is not violence and killing, pure and simple; war is controlled violence, for a purpose. The purpose of war is to support your government’s decisions by force. The purpose is never to kill the enemy just to be killing him…but to make him do what you want to do. Not killing…but controlled and purposeful violence. But it’s not your business or mine to decide the purpose of the control. It’s never a soldier’s business to decide when or where or how—or why—he fights; that belongs to the statesmen and the generals. The statesmen decide why and how much; the generals take it from there and tell us where and when and how. We supply the violence; other people—’older and wiser heads,’ as they say—supply the control. Which is as it should be
Today, as you may have guessed, is Memorial Day, a holiday first made official on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan. The original holiday was designed to honor the fallen, on both sides, of the Civil War. The holiday was just as divisive as the war until after World War 1 when it was rededicated to all soldiers who gave their lives in the service of their country. In 1971 Congress passed the National Holiday Act which moved the observance of Memorial Day from May 30th to the last Monday of the month of May. Whether that was a good thing or not, I cannot say. Three day weekend = Good, forgetting why we have that weekend = Bad.
Speaking of people who forget, several groups in England want World War II re-enactments to ban any Nazi uniforms. Because, well, because … who do they think was on the other side during WWII? They wrap it all up under flag of “not offending people” but it should be wrapped with the moldy fish in a newspaper and discarded in the trash. I’m not a big fan of re-enactments, but if they are going to do them, then both sides kind of need to be there for any of it to make sense.
There are millions of stories of heroism that can be used to define Memorial Day. Some of them I have heard personally from the men and, now, women who lived through them. I fear that picking any one over another would only serve to denigrate the ones I missed, so I won’t do that. Instead, I ask you to take a minute out of your busy life and visit a VFW Post or AMVETS Hall near you so you can hear the stories directly from the mouths of the heroes who were there.
In parting, I leave you with this memorandum from an Army veteran.
“It is the soldier, not the reporter, Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the organizer, Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, Who salutes the flag, Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag, Who allows the protestor to burn the flag.
– Charles M. Province
Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG AM 1280, every Thursday morning around 9:10!