This Memorial Day marks the third anniversary of the debut of this blog.
When I was growing up, my father, an Army infantry officer, used to tell me that if at all possible, I should always take some time on this holiday and visit the local military cemetery to honor the fallen and pay tribute to what they gave for their fellow countrymen.
In that spirit, this time of year I frequently post about the sacrifices of American veterans. I never expected that I would be writing about the needless deaths of almost 100,000 of our countrymen and still climbing, rapidly approaching the number who died in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan combined.
It is bitterly appropriate that we should reach that grim milestone on this particular weekend.
I will (mostly) restrain myself from my usual vitriol directed at those who, through their malevolence and incompetence and avarice, led us into this sorrowful state of affairs. Our regular programming will resume next week.
For now let us simply pause and reflect on those we’ve lost.
That general admonition to remember what this holiday is about, which one often reads in the editorial pages on the last Monday in May, is usually accompanied by gentle scolding about taking time out from barbecues and beachgoing and parties. I’ve trafficked in that sanctimony myself. It’s fair enough.
But there’s no need for hedonism-shaming. This Memorial Day, the idea of a barbecue, or going to the beach, or having a party, are all simple pleasures that we would be grateful to have. Forgoing them has, temporarily, become not just an act of spartanism at the beginning of summer, but of patriotic and humanitarian duty. Some among us are so eager to get those pleasures back that they would rush forward where thoughtful citizens (not necessarily angels) wisely choose not yet to tread.
Save a few centenarians who survived the Spanish flu, no living American has experienced this extent of sickness and death in this country. Nor have we seen such depths of economic hardship since the 1930s. The immediate future is disturbingly uncertain, creating profound psychological stress of its own. Accordingly, we are being—or ought to be—forced to re-examine almost every aspect of our lives and values and beliefs: that is to say, what kind of country we are and what kind we want to be. The answers are by no means certain and consensus even less so.
America is in the midst of a crisis that is testing our soul, or what’s left of it. So far we’ve seen incredible bravery, fortitude, and sacrifice—from first responders, health care workers, delivery people, mail carriers, store clerks, and others in all walks of life. We’ve also seen some of the most appalling greed, selfishness, dishonesty, criminal suppression of the facts, refusal to take responsibility, and even active efforts to make this crisis worse.
There is no need for us to pass judgment: God will take care of that…..and so will history, which traditionally is far harsher than the Lord.
Whether you believe in the deity or not, we don’t need to be literal when we say: God bless us every one on this Memorial Day like no other.
Illustration of Florida attorney Daniel Uhlfelder, dressed as a certain famously somber figure.