Happy Memorial Day.
What are you doing for Memorial Day? A cookout? Going out on the boat? Fireworks? Maybe waving an American flag and watching a parade? Of course you’re doing something along those lines. Who wouldn’t. It’s Memorial Day. That’s what you do on Memorial Day. To do anything else would be stupid.
I read a book recently that completely changed my perception on this day. If you haven’t read Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut you really should. This was one of the more obscure points that he made in his book, and honestly I would have completely missed the point if we hadn’t discussed it for an hour or two in one of the classes I was taking, so the credit of discovering this shouldn’t all be given to me. Regardless, as much as I disagree with some of the stuff Vonnegut says, this point really stuck with me.
“And I propose to you that if we are to pay our sincere respects to the hundred lost children of San Lorenzo, that we might best spend the day despising what killed them; which is to say, the stupidity and viciousness of all mankind. Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.”
This is only one part of a much longer speech (I lost my book already so I can’t copy the whole thing) but the point is pretty clear; on Memorial Day we glorify war. We glorify patriotism. We celebrate ourselves and not those who fought for us to keep the privilege of being able to celebrate ourselves. We celebrate the very institution that causes us to have Memorial Day instead of recognizing the necessary evils of it. Quite frankly I hate how we act on Memorial Day.
How can we fix it? Once again, I can’t take credit for finding this information due to it being brought up in my class, but Israel is the perfect example of how we should do it. On the first day they observe Yom Hazikaron. On this day at about 11 AM a siren sounds. Everyone stops what they’re doing. If you’re driving you stop the car, open the door. and get out. There is then a moment of silence in honor of those who died for their country. It’s a day of complete honor, remembrance, and a complete lack of the glorification of war.
The day after that they celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, a celebration similar to our 4th of July. Barbecues, fireworks, glorification of Israel, that sort of thing. It’s their independence day and their patriotism is displayed openly. They celebrate living in Israel in every way that they can. It’s a national day of celebration.
The United States has to do that sort of thing. Israel definitely is able to get more widespread participation – compulsory military service, constant attack, etc. The US, however, needs to draw the distinction between celebration and honor/remembrance. Save the celebration for the 4th of July. The best way to honor those who died for our country is not to grill a hamburger or jump in a pool. Quite frankly it’s insulting.