Memorial Day began as a remembrance of the Union dead of the War Between the States. It was not until after World War I that the meaning of the day was expanded to honor all those who died in American Wars. And it was not until 1971 that Congress made the day a national holiday.
Major General John A. Logan, head of the Grand Army of the Republic (an organization of Union veterans) picked the day of May 30th as Memorial Day since it was believed that flowers would be in bloom all over the country. General Logan’s orders for that day stated,
“We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.” (From http://www.appc1.va.gov/pubaff/mday/mdayorig.htm)
But, for many, Memorial Day is a day of racing, parades, and the unofficial beginning of summer. For many students, Memorial Day is the marker that says school is almost over. It is hardly what we could call a day of memory and remembrance.
It need not be a somber day of memory and reflection for we must honor those who died to insure our freedom and the liberties that we have. But I am afraid that this is becoming a day of celebration of war, not a remembrance of war and what war does. We glorify that which we should abhor and we ignore the consequences of our actions.
The speeches that will be given today will not be about ending wars but seeking to glorify war. The politicians and pundits will speak of making this world safe for democracy but they will not speak of what must be done. They will not speak about removing the causes of war; only in making sure that we win the war. No one will speak of working to insure that this world becomes a truly safe place.
I have come to the conclusion that the loudest voices speaking on Memorial Day should be those from the Peace Movement, not in protest of past, current, or future wars but in honor of those who died in service for this country. But the words that should be spoken should be words that proclaim “no more war” and they should echo the words of those who served and fought and died and saw the horrors of war and what happens when mankind turns against itself.
We should and must honor those who served this country and remember them. But I want to work for a world in which those who died serving this country died at home with their family and friends, not on a battlefield far away from home. The words that we should hear should echo the thought of “no more war”.
We are reminded of the quote first attributed to the Greek philosopher, Herodotus, “in peace, children bury their parents; in war, parents bury their children.” We should not be hearing the cries of parents who have lost their sons and daughters, of husbands and wives who have lost their spouses, or of children who have lost their parents for a cause no one remembers or understands.
Some will tell me that war is inevitable. But if it is inevitable that means that we know it is coming. And if we know it is coming we can let it happen or we can work to stop it. I think that it is far better to work to stop war than let it happen.