Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May (May 31 in 2010). Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in the military service. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War (it is celebrated near the day of reunification after the Civil War), it was expanded after World War I.
Dead Confederate and Union soldiers lying side by side in a trench.
Sometimes, even in solemn remembrances, origins fade in the passage of years. The honored dead are no more or less sacred based on the time and place in which they fall, but a trip to the beginning can be sobering in the context of current events. I recently was in an exchange with a brother who expressed that he is of a mind to meet intimidation with violence. The roots of this intimidation are firmly planted in the philosophic dichotomy in our current political culture, namely the conflict between those who seek to establish government control or determination of nearly every aspect of our lives, and those of us who refuse to be dispossessed of the notion of a limited government that serves us and not an expansive government that we all serve. The passions on both sides frequently burn stronger than the bounds of restraint might contain, and the actions of those seeking a paternal government often seem calculated to elicit a strong response, if only so they can claim justification for the taking the powers they crave.
This weekend, many will pause to think of the honored dead. For some it is a father, a mother, a sister or brother. A grandparent, a childhood friend, former neighbor, or a nameless, faceless person from the past to whom a debt of gratitude is owed that can never be personally repaid in full. Every flag-draped coffin and alabaster headstone represents a sacrifice made by someone who did not fail when their country asked. They represent sacrifices freely made in the service of freedoms that do not exist in any other country in the world, and so made, have forever earned the descriptors of “honored” and “sacred”. They still exist as examples to future generations that some ideas are worth fighting for.
While there were several reasons for the conflict that spawned this holiday, for many, it will ultimately be about the incompatibility of a nation founded on the freedom that God granted to all men, and the state of bondage in which some of its citizens retained thousands of others, and the liberation that came of that conflict was the correct result to dispense with that contradiction. However, the conflict also concerned issues of federalism, and the idea of separation of powers, and unfortunately, too many have acted as if the resolution of that conflict to resolve those issues. It did not, and could not have done so, while allowing this country retain the character which its architects clearly intended.
As a result, there is exists a schism today, between those who believe that the federal government has jurisdiction over any matter it chooses to exercise jurisdiction over, and that the individual’s rights, central to the grant of authority set forth in the Declaration of Independence, is subject to the supremacy of collective rights as determined by the nebulous and non-objectably definable “general welfare”, and that this “general welfare” is not even determined by national concerns, but by international (and unelected) consensus. This conflation purports to create ambiguity where in truth none exists. There is no question who is right; one is either a citizen of this nation, or a citizen of the world. It is not possible to be both without having an inherent conflict of interest between the two, yet this division still exists, and a clash between these beliefs leaves its mark on the actions of politicians and on the effects on our citizens.
These clashing beliefs have the same potential as the conflict over slavery, because the resolution means no less than defining who we will be as a nation, or even whether we will continue to exist as a nation. These are also ideas that are worth dying for. Some would like that conflict now. Others would like to see if the issue can be resolved without resorting to that cost. It is no shame to fight for the ideals you believe in without taking the life of a countryman. There is no surrender in meeting them point for point in a free and open forum. History and fact are on our side. We all lose when we abandon that field, because should we do so, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins,…Americans…will find themselves divided by the sword. Before any one of us submits to passion and rushes headlong into such a breach, we all need to consider the honored dead, not just from modern conflicts, but those of the War Between the States. Consider their courage, committment, resolve, and sacrifice, and give due consideration to the ideals for which they paid the only price that is solely the individual’s to pay, and whether the ideals for which you burn also honor their sacrifice or make it in vain, and whether you have given your last full measure short of surrendering to a terrible resolve.
Dead soldiers at Gettysburg. Casualties for both the Union and Confederates after three days of fighting were greater than 50,000.
Crossposted at Taxes, Stupidity, and Death.