Do You Remember?

As I have remarked upon before [1], there are three ancestors of mine I honor on Memorial Day. In early 1863, a man who had been a talented farmer, who built the red-brick two-story house that until a few years ago was the home of my father’s side of the family, died on a patrol mission as a rookie cavalryman on picket duty with an infant son and widow back home. In 1923, that man’s granddaughter became a widow when her husband, a World War I veteran, died with an infant daughter (my paternal grandmother), leaving an embittered widow whose loneliness and anger led to generational repercussions that have greatly harmed my own life. Meanwhile, the childhood of my maternal grandfather was greatly harmed by having to take up an adult’s responsibility far too young because his own father was a semi-invalid after being gassed in World War I as well, which would ultimately lead to my great-grandfather’s death due to medical error.

When we honor our nation’s war dead, which is what Memorial Day is all about, we must take care to put these honored dead in a greater context. During my travels in Thailand, I spent a Feast of Tabernacles in 2011 [2], which I attended in the small market town of Khun Yuam. This small town happened to be the base of Japan’s Burma Road, and at the time I was there, construction was proceeding for a Shinto shrine to honor the Japanese War dead at the abandoned air force base where our hill tribe brethren played games for Field Day. Whenever a Japanese politician visits some sort of Shinto shrine for honored war dead, there is international condemnation that this politician is honoring war criminals. The manifestly dishonorable conduct of the Japanese military from 1931 to 1945 has made it impossible for their dead to be honored without massive complaint, because they died in a dishonorable cause. Yet surely Japanese children mourned the loss of their fathers in war and widows bitterly grieved, just as American children and widows have, for we are human beings with a love for hearth and home, regardless of whether the causes we fight for are just, or our conduct in such efforts honorable and decent.

Nor is the damage of war confined to the death of men (and women) in wartime. Surely we ought to honor the memory of those who have died on our behalf, whose sacrifices have been for the glory of our country. Yet war is not only a destroyer of lives, but also of hope, of peace of mind, massive resources that could have been spent far more profitably in peaceful pursuits but was diverted to destructive ends. Sometimes war is necessary, but it is not something to be enjoyed. The dead in war are not only entombed in coffins draped over with our nation’s flags, but the dead also live as haunting presences in the memory of others, in the loss of potential in a mind wracked by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, in the memories of dead relatives who will never return from the sword and spear to take up the plow and pruning hook again. Parades do not bring back the dead, but rather they remind the living of the price that was paid on our behalf by others, a debt that cannot fully be repaid.

Our ability to honor our war dead depends on their honorable conduct in war, and in the honor of the causes our nation’s leaders chose to send those men (and women) to fight for. Yet the value of the sacrifice of those dead is often in the way in which we live our own lives. Does the knowledge that someone died for us so that we may live have a practical effect on our conduct? I do not mean this merely as academic or intellectual head-knowledge, as fond as I am of it, but in the sort of heart knowledge by which we understand that our lives were worth enough so that someone would sacrifice himself for us so that we may live. We do not honor the dead merely for their own sake, but to remind ourselves of how we need to live as a result. Do we remember?


[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Christianity, History, Military History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Do You Remember?

  1. Pingback: No Day Shall Erase You From The Memory Of Time | Edge Induced Cohesion

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