Memorial Day has lost its meaning? So have most holidays


 

Memorial Day has lost its meaning? So have most holidays
 


29 May 2017 at 9:42:52 AM
salon

From an article in APNews

While millions of Americans celebrate the long Memorial Day weekend as the unofficial start of summer — think beaches and backyard barbecues, mattress sales and sporting events — some veterans and loved ones of fallen military members wish the holiday that honors more than 1 million people who died serving their country would command more respect.

Or at least awareness.

“It’s a fun holiday for people: ‘Let’s party.’ It’s an extra day off from work,” said Carol Resh, 61, whose son, Army Capt. Mark Resh, was killed in Iraq a decade ago. “It’s not that they’re doing it out of malice. It just hasn’t affected them.”

I understand how the people who want Memorial Day taken seriously feel. But in this country, most of the holidays have lost their meaning and are simply occasions for merriment. Take Christmas. It was orginally a pagan holiday based on sun worship. In this country, christians didn't even celebrate it originally because of its dubious origins. Whatever Christmas was, it certainly is not taken seriously as a Jesus-only celebration, but is a holiday built for anyone to enjoy that wants to eat, drink, share gifts, and party, really more of a secular holiday resembling Saturnalia at this point. Or Easter-bunnies and eggs are pagan spring rite symbolisim. If anyone chooses not to take the origins of a holiday seriously and sees it as a chance to relax, eat good food and enjoy good company, who can, or should complain? 

"It just hasn't affected them".

I believe one main reason for this is that the country no longer has a draft. Military service has changed from something one does for one's country as a matter of duty to being an optional job occupation. The population in general is not required to pay attention to what's going on in other countries, at least not without extra effort. For example, I remember when the war, with all its gory details, was played out on the news. The public thus was not only made aware of what was going on, but could by dint of watching the war, participate, plus one's friends and neighbors were fighting.  At some point, government decided not to make war mandatory, probably precisely to hide what they were doing from the public eye, and fighting for the military became an optional job. (I say optional but there's an argument to be made about whether policies that hurt the poor don't also feed the military, ie, if your only chance at a job to support yourself or your family is to get military money, then that likely is a direction you will go). And, seems to me that pressure should be put on our media to show the war, with all its good and bad, so that people who are not participating have a chance to take it seriously. 

In the same way that I am not affected by the person whose job is issuing code violation citations (unless I receive one), I am also not affected by others fighting in other countries. And why should I? These wars don't appear to me to be battles in which we are  fighting against countries that directly threaten the United States. On 9/11, this country was directly attacked by, in part,Saudi Arabians who flew airplanes into buildings. So what did the United States do? Started a war, under George W Bush, in Iraq, while giving Saudi Arabia a pass. In fact, recently, Donald Trump was lavishly feted in Saudi Arabia while he made a deal to sell them weapons at a discount negotiated by his son-in-law Jared Kushner. When people can see that the actual culprits of a crime are not the ones that are targeted, it makes at least some of us question why we are even, empire-style, in countries that have never specifically harmed us, killing people. The media treating wars seriously by honestly showing the effects of them  is essential for any holiday that wants to be treated seriously.

"Some veterans say Memorial Day began to be watered down more than four decades ago when Congress changed the date from its traditional May 30 to the last Monday in May to give people a three-day weekend. Arguing that transformed a solemn day of remembrance into one associated with leisure and recreation, veterans groups have long advocated a return to May 30. For years, the late Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, asked Congress to change it back, to no avail."

I don't disagree with this. If the idea, and I have no idea what it originally was, merely speculating, was that a 3 day weekend would enable people to travel to cemeteries or other remembrance events, then it makes sense to add the extra day. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed by Congress in 1968 had a purpose of creating 3 day weekends for federal employees-that was not specific to Memorial Day, so at that point, the seeds were sown to change the nature of the day. I doubt that most people travel to cemeteries to lay flowers on the graves of the departed, unless they personally know the fallen. And if it's a matter of a ceremonial event, that's encapsulated in one day, not 3 days. Veterans Day, for example, for living veterans, is not part of a 3 day weekend and it certainly is a day taken seiously regardless which day of the week it falls on. Memorial Day didn't become a federal holiday till 1971. Before that, there was *Decoration Day* in which people went out to cemeteries to clean them, and honor the dead. And, unofficially, how often is it that Memorial Day is a rite of summer, ie, the day the swimming pools open. 

For those who want Memorial Day to be serious, in the same way that some christians want Easter and Christmas to be only religious holidays, nothing stops them from having their own rites and events. But others do not have to participate in them, can not feel a bit of guilt eating barbecue or enjoying their friends and families, and can be just as patriotic as anyone else. 

 


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