Commentary on Memorial Day

Mmm… Memorial Day. Allegedly this holiday, celebrated the last Monday on the calendar in the month of May each year, is where Americans take the time to remember those who have fought for the rights and freedoms that we enjoy. In practice, however, this isn’t the case. Instead most people will be observing this holiday by grilling out – weather permitting – and taking advantage of one of the numerous Memorial Day weekend sales going on.

And let’s not forget the parades, the Indianapolis 500, the Coca-Cola 600, and the Memorial Tournament golf event. There will also be the National Memorial Day Concert, which will feature a host of performances including several military music groups. Anyone know who I should contact to get the United States Marine Corps Band added to the list for next year?

It would seem that Memorial Day is another holiday whose true history has been completely lost and likely buried under propaganda, so let’s go over the history a little, shall we…

It begins on May 1, 1865, in Charleston, South Carolina. Certainly fitting that the place where the Civil War began would be the place where the first memorial observances would occur. Freedmen knew of at least 250 Union soldiers who died at the Charleston Race Course and were hastily buried in unmarked graves, so they along with teachers and missionaries gathered to honor those fallen, forgotten soldiers. This would become known as the first Decoration Day on a site now known as Hampton Park. David W. Blight observed:

African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet, and their songs what the War had been about. What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.

In this light I believe that Memorial Day is truly about remembering those who were forgotten, those who are unknown, those for whom we do not have tombstones next to which we can set a flag.

Like all good ideas, this one spread. In 1868 John Logan, acting as commander-in-chief of a veteran’s organization called Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation stating that Decoration Day be observed nationwide. This would occur mostly in northern States on May 30 of that year, a date specifically chosen as it was not the anniversary of any battle. The name "Memorial Day" would not be used until 1882, and it was not officially declared in the United States Code until 1967, well over 100 years since its first observation, and the definition that it be on the last Monday in May took effect with the Uniform Holidays Bill in 1968, which moved Memorial Day along with three other holidays to a Monday specifically to create a three-day federal holiday weekend. Like many other days, what originally started as a privately-organized, yet nationally observed event has been turned into a Federal holiday. To those wanting to preserve the National Day of Prayer I say to take note, as the history of Memorial Day shows you do not need the government to proclaim a national day of anything if the public interest is truly there for it.

There have been sparse movements to restore the holiday to its original day of May 30. In 2002 the Veterans of Foreign Wars observed:

Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.

The last year in which Memorial Day was observed on May 30 was in 2011, and it will again be observed on May 30 in 2016 under the current law.

Ironically the people who were killed are honored on the day considered to be the colloquial start of Summer (due likely to the fact that more than half of the public school districts have ended their academic years by that day) while those who survived or served the military without sustaining a battle wound or scar are honored on a day in the twilight of Autumn.

The African Americans from whom the idea of Memorial Day originated had a reason to remember the fallen and forgotten soldiers buried at what is today known as Hampton Park – the dead have since been reinterred at Beaufort National Cemetery. Though the individual service of the soldiers buried there likely was not something significant, in collective with the rest of the United States Army and the militias of the States therein, they managed to do something significant, something which even that Army’s commander in chief could not do: they brought the institution of slavery to an end. And though slavery was replaced with institutionalized, government-backed racism, it was at least the first steps on a long walk ahead.

Like the origins of Memorial Day there is much that has been forgotten, as I said likely buried by propaganda. Sociologist Robert Bellah and other scholars have observed that the United States has a "civil religion". Libertarians have referred to this as the "cult of the omnipotent State".

And the observations applicable to theistic religions have near perfect application to the civil religion of the omnipotent State, including the ignorance of and disregard for reality.

In this regard, many have forgotten that we are stewards, not owners, of the freedom secured by the shedding of blood on battlefields from 1775 to 1783. That freedom has not suffered a threat from external sources or forces since 1941, specifically the attack on Pearl Harbor. In response to that attack the United States engaged in legitimate hostilities against the Empire of Japan and responded to additional declarations of war by Germany and Italy with additional military force while assisting allies in Europe.

Each death in the United States military during active hostilities from Vietnam onward has been due to lies and propaganda on the part of the government of the United States. Our freedom is more threatened from within than it is and has ever been from without. Our freedom was not threatened nor even dented by the attacks of September 11, 2001, but has been severely compromised by the government response to that attack. Those who have perished fighting in the United States military in the theatres of Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 have died for lies and propaganda stemming from a flip-flop Middle East foreign policy. They did not die to preserve your rights and freedom because they were not fighting the real threats to your rights and freedom.

The last to die fighting for any real external threat to your rights and freedom perished on the land and sea battlefields of the south Pacific and Europe during the course of what would be known as the Second World War. I know it is painful to actually realize, which I believe is why most are still living in the pleasant cloud of ignorance.

To be sure our military is composed of individuals meeting requirements most of us either cannot or will not attempt, performing duties of which most people passed, currently living and yet to be born will never do. This alone deserves admiration, for the accomplishments necessary to be called an honorably-discharged veteran most of us will never face. And even many of those who want to learn if they can meet those challenges will be turned away.

But it is not correct nor proper to say that individuals fighting in certain conflicts "fought and died for our freedoms", for unless they are fighting the real threats to your rights and freedoms, they were doing nothing of the sort. This is not to downplay the role of the military. Certainly not, and I do not wish to be mistaken on that part. Our military is tasked with defending the Constitution and the rights that document protects "against all enemies, foreign and domestic". But it is not correct nor proper to say the various conflicts into which our military has been engaged including and since Vietnam is in line with that task.

This Memorial Day remember those who long ago fell in the task of protecting, preserving and defending the freedoms and rights we take for granted against real external threats. Escape the disservice of propaganda and learn the real reasons your fallen loved ones actually died. Remember those who long before any of us were even born fought on battlefields to secure the freedom we enjoy.

And most of all remember that ultimately we, the People, are tasked with preserving the freedom we enjoy, for we do not own this freedom, but are merely stewards of it.