A Rumination on Memorial Day

In the United States, today is Memorial Day, ostensibly dedicated to honoring those who have died in military service to the United States, and more commonly observed as 1) the unofficial beginning of summer (summer in the sense of persistent high temperatures has generally already come to the Texas Hill Country in which I live by the time of Memorial Day, and the solstice is not for nearly a month yet), 2) an opportunity for stores to attract customers through sales, and 3) an almost-obligatory day of grill- and smoker-work. For me, as for many others, it is a day off from regular work (though that occasions its own challenges); for me, as for seemingly relatively few others, it is a day inviting reflection, as well.

Memorial Day 2010
Few, not none.
Public domain photo from Arlington National Cemetery

I am not a person who normally makes much of holidays, being of a decidedly secular bent and of a generally staid and curmudgeonly demeanor. But I understand that many other people, perhaps most, are, and I do not necessarily begrudge others their observances (though I do begrudge being bombarded with them, as is sometimes the case, as well as having my generally quiet and unobtrusive non-observance berated), and I remain committed to at least some notion of the life of the mind, to the service of Truth as something that might actually approach being an objective good. So I note that, despite the US-endemic hyper-commercialization attendant upon the holiday, and in addition to the (problematic in several ways, I know) family-reinforcing tendency towards grilling and outdoor togetherness that accompanies it, there are those who observe the memorial sincerely–even as it arises from the US Civil War and, in particular, those who were on the rightly losing side of that conflict. And I wonder why it is that only service under arms is valued, or valued so highly. For it is not the case that service under arms is the only service that works to the public good, nor is it the case that service under arms does the most public good. Nor yet is it the case that only those who serve under arms are like to die in that service–as has been too abundantly and too often proven in the past months.

I leave aside entirely whether or not those who have died in service under arms deserve commemoration. I do not leave, however, the question of what it says that only those who die in such a way seem to deserve it. The public priorities would seem to be suggested thereby, and I am not certain the suggestion is one of which the prevailing public ought to be proud, whether when it marks its fallen warriors or at any other time.

As ever, contributions are welcome–and appreciated!

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