Well readers, it’s Memorial Day in America, meaning that you’re almost certainly going to stumble over one of these pictures today…
These have a habit of rearing their heads from the depths of the internet whenever a holiday rolls around. Memorial Day. Veteran’s Day. Our sense of patriotic duty and military sympathy is so strong that we’ll even claim Labor Day “isn’t just a long weekend.”
And regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, your Facebook feed is almost certainly going to be drenched in emotional “tributes” to the armed forces.
And it’s that last one there that really irked me. “The real meaning of Memorial Day.”
The “real” meaning of Memorial Day.
Because apparently everyone’s been grossly incorrect about what Memorial Day means. Because the “real” meaning- like the city of Atlantis or the paintings of Botticelli- has been lost to mankind. Because it must mean something. It can’t be just a day for BBQs, right?
Well readers, yours truly has undertaken an intrepid journey into the heart of American culture to uncover that legendary “lost meaning.”
Here’s what I’ve discovered.
“Support” Is Bull*****
It was a little while ago that I stumbled across an absolutely brilliant little comedy bit- a bit which, in spite of my best efforts, I haven’t been able to find again. Allow me to restate it as best as I can below:
Comedian: “So how many of you guys support the troops?”
<The crowd erupts into cheers, whoops, and applause. Tables are pounded on and drinks are lifted into the air.>
Comedian: “Okay- so what have you done for ’em recently?”
<A smattering of guilty laughter ripples across the infinitely more subdued audience.>
I love that bit because I think it illustrates so perfectly the mindset most folks have. It’s one of absolute nominalism, completely and utter devoid of any actual meaning. “Support” simply seems to mean “I didn’t spit on any returning soldiers like they did to the Vietnam Vets!”
And does that really count for ****?
Again, I gotta ask, what is this overwhelming, unconditional, and unquestioning “support” so many people seem to have? And don’t tell me it’s buying little flags or bumper stickers. As far as the magnets go, I’ll turn that subject over to Comedian Steve Hofstetter (I don’t think he was the same comedian I referenced earlier, but he’s got some good stuff to say all the same).
Yesterday I was speaking to a soldier in Iraq. He said that despite the recent announcement that more than 1300 US troops have been killed in the last 18 months, morale has been really high lately, thanks to all those magnets on cars he’s been seeing.
Well he didn’t really see them. He’s in Iraq, and the cars are in America. But he heard about them in a letter he received several weeks after his mother sent it. You know how tricky the mail can be, what with the holidays and the 1300 dead people.
Well that soldier doesn’t really exist. I invented him up to illustrate how ridiculous those magnets are. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you haven’t been in a car in the last three months. If you’ve been reading my column, you know I’ve been in several cars, many of them now smushed.
Anyway, I’m talking about the magnets tacked to people’s trunks that say “Support our Troops” or “God Bless America” or some similar sentiment. They’re great, except they’re useless.
For all of the “support” people claim to have when it comes to the armed forces, that same enthusiasm seems strangely absent when it comes to actually spending some money for education and medical assistance on vets (you know- actual support). Time and time again, Republicans and Democrats have blocked the passage of veteran assistance bills. Then again, these were the same folks who sent the military to fight, kill, and die in pointless conflicts, so I’m not sure why anyone’s surprised.
Because here’s the truth…
It’s Not About The Troops
It’s about our own sanctimonious vanity.
I’ve said it in years past and I’ll say it again: all the flag-waving, all the song-singing, all the truck decals, all the empty ****ing Facebook posts, all of this exists for stroking our own swollen egos.
Think about it.
Pop onto anyone’s page, and chances are you’ll see a whole stream of flags and guns.
Because that’s what our troops are into, right? I mean, all of these soldiers are wearing flags on their sleeves and walking around with guns so clearly it’s what they enjoy personally.
Since the beginning of the highly contentions war in Iraq we’ve been making a big stink about having to support soldiers, not the cause they fight for. “You don’t have to like the war,” they say, “But you do have to support the troops.”
Okay, what does that mean?
Now stop me if I’m wrong here, but posting pictures of helicopters, Humvees, and hand grenades doesn’t seem to support either the troops or the war. It’s just some random military gear, as bland and generic as possible to avoid making any kind of statement. And while that might be great for avoiding controversy, it doesn’t seem to do anything in terms of recognizing soldiers as unique individuals with their own hopes, ambitions, and fears. None of these vainglorious pictures call attention to them, they call attention to us.
I had a friend- not a close friend, but a friend all the same- who died during his time of military service. Am I actually honoring his memory by spamming my Facebook feed with bald eagles? I don’t even know if he liked eagles.
I thought a bit about what would honor his memory, and the more I thought about it, the more I found myself returning to the same conclusion. You want to know what the real meaning of Memorial Day is?
It’s About Long Weekends and BBQs
This is not a day for blind or rabid nationalism. And this is not a day for feeling apologetic and guilty. Neither of those extremes does a damn thing for the folks who died, whether they died for a noble cause or not. And yes, on this day, there will be those of us (and far, far too many of us) who will greet the holiday with bitter-sweetness, recalling all the loved ones they lost. But for those of us who haven’t felt that loss, how about we don’t ****ing pretend to?
How then are we to honor the dead?
Through living, of course. And not simply surviving in the rat race, but through taking some time out to really and truly enjoy life. No, my friend didn’t die so that I could stuff my fat face with hamburgers and fries, but I’d like to think that were he living, he’d probably want to spend a 3-day weekend doing exactly that.
So dig in.