Monday, May 30, 2011


In my youth -- as I suspect it was for most of my readers -- Memorial Day was a holiday that had drifted from its roots.  Yes, it was always more prominent in the South, given that the Decoration Day tradition originated there.  And I remember the large (and beautiful) national cemetery in Chattanooga being covered with flags on this weekend.  I have dim recollections of a military parade, too.

But in the seventies, the armed services were definitely an ambiguous subject throughout the American culture.  Not so for kids coming of age in the first decade of the twenty-first century.  Supporting and honoring the troops has become an activity closely associated with civic virtue, promoted by all segments of the media and never questioned in public.

My family doesn't have a strong military background or tradition, unlike many of the students I teach.  My father was in the reserves, and my mother's brothers served in World War II; I'm sure my grandfathers and on back had military experiences that I don't remember hearing about.  But other than a few souvenirs and stories, soldiering never entered my upbringing.  By contrast, it's rare for my students to have a family without a conscious, active, and meaningful association with a branch of the service, base life, and one of the present or recent deployment zones around the world.

Many commenters have noted today that the distinction between Memorial Day and Veterans Day seems to have been lost.  It's a natural result of the pro-military attitude of the times.  We take every opportunity to praise those currently serving, and any day with patriotic meaning becomes another place them front and center.  We do remember the sacrifice of those serving on Memorial Day, but the sentiment is not sharply distinguished between the living and the dead.  Perhaps that distinction no longer serves our culture well in an era with lengthy wars and occupations, when the line between the absent and the present is thin and raw.

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