Before becoming a day famous as a way of defining the beginning of summer (in a similar way that Labor Day defines, culturally, the end of summer), Memorial Day was a day that was best known for being a day mainly concerned with taking care of the graves of forefathers who had died in war or died after military service. Of course, I have been gratified in a sense to see at least some people that I know (mainly interested, to one extent or another, in the military arts) who have sought to keep alive the memory of this particular day in all of its seriousness, so that it does not become merely another day in the calendar. I would like to suggest, further, that the issue of remembering what memorial day is all about has a great deal to do with our society and its course throughout recent generations.
When Memorial Day was first established, the United States had recently emerged from the horrors of the Civil War . Originally called Decoration Day, it was a day that was based around decorating the graves of Civil War dead, a matter which affected many families and just about every community . Given the massive societal sacrifice that had been required to defeat the dark forces of rebellion and to remove the evil of chattel slavery from our republic, and given the tenacious hold that the demons of rebellion and domination had on the leaders and many of the people of the southern states, it was not only proper to show honor to those who had died to help our nation overcome its sins but that sacrifice was impossible to ignore. With missing fathers and husbands and brothers and sons and cousins and neighbors, it was impossible to neglect the void that the Civil War left in communities, and so Decoration Day was easy to keep in mind as a solemn day to honor those who had given their lives for our country.
That said, over the last few generations, there has been a loss of that shared sacrifice for the well-being of the larger community or society or nation as a whole. While there are some groups of people who, for reasons of family tradition or out of a desire to be seen as American serve in our armed forces, out of what could be considered identity reasons. Others are lured by the opportunity of education without college debt or the acquisition of skills and the feeling of honor and respect and desire for the benefits that may follow from military service, which is itself essentially a mercenarial perspective. When a nation depends on a volunteer force, as ours does, the tricky matter of what will motivate someone to potentially put his or her life at risk to be the tip of the spear for our nation’s military and political objectives in such a way that will be feasible is a tricky task. Figuring out what will motivate enough people who are capable of self-sacrifice to kill or die to achieve desired results is not an easy matter at all, but it is something that our military has dedicated itself to.
Given the fact that collective sacrifice is not something we have any great appetite for or experience in, at least at present (I am concerned, alas, that we will understand this all too well in our future), it is little surprise that we have forgotten what Memorial Day really means as a society. To be sure, I will enjoy what is grilled (even as I hope it doesn’t inflame my poor foot any more than it already is), and I will relax on a rare paid day off from work, but I will seek also to remember those who have died so that I had the freedom to be a rather intensely critical sort of person who is willing to sacrifice for what I believe and also someone who appreciates the price that has to be paid at times for our nation to live up to its noble ideals as best as is humanly possible. I hope this price has not been paid in vain.
 See, for example:
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