Although there are many historical claimants as to when, where, and by whom Memorial Day originated, they all date back to the years following the Civil War when individuals in both the North and the South, as well as freed slaves, decorated the graves of Civil War soldiers. By the early 20th century, just about every state in the union had their own official “Decoration Day” where its citizens honored and decorated the graves of soldiers who had died fighting in America’s wars. After World War 2 there was a national effort to unify all of the local Decoration Days, most of which were observed on May 30th. Thus in 1967, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed, which moved Memorial Day, as well as three other national holidays to the last Monday in the months in which they occurred. Unlike Veteran’s Day in November which honors all men and women who currently or have served in the armed services, Memorial Day is the day when we honor all those who gave their lives in service to their country, not to mention those who never came home (MIA).
Unfortunately, as a recent tweet by our current vice-president seemed to indicate, to many Americans Memorial Day is simply seen as the last day of a three-day weekend. Of course, living as we do in overly-cushy and distracting times, we should not find this sentiment surprising. However, the feeling that the holiday has lost its sesne of gravitas is a perennial one among those who have served in the armed forces, and especially those who have seen the death and horror of war up close. In 1913 an Indiana vet complained that there was a tendency among the young to "to forget the purpose of Memorial Day and make it a day for games, races, and revelry, instead of a day of memory and tears.”
Why We Can’t Appreciate What We Don’t Know
Much of today’s indifference to Memorial day could be chalked up to two modern realities. The first is the deplorable manner in which American history has been taught in our schools for well over a generation now, by teachers using cirriculum that have an overt Leftist and anti-American axe to grind. The second is the fact that the generation that never knew a time without smartphones or other portable e-devices, has reached maturity. The intellectually soporific effects of the internet have conditioned an entire cohort of people to view the world the same way they interact with their devices. They click and sort through the facts and truths they use to shape their view of the world, the same way they arrange a Spotify playlist. Thus how they see or feel about the world has been formed by catering to their whims and personal preferences.
This is why it is easy for so many Americans today, to turn small and insignificant issues into overblown outrages that will be forgotten in time. Meanwhile, the overarching meta-narratives about our world and the deep-seated problems within it, such as the fact that our country has been at war for over two decades now, are filtered out as unimportant. Granted, during all that time we have not been asked to sacrifice much for any sort of “war effort” and we were spared the flag-draped coffins coming home from overseas broadcast on mainstream channels as happened during the Vietnam War. Nevertheless, far too many Americans view the problems and dangers in the world through their screens, the same way people might look at the wild animals in a zoo. At some level they understand the animals are wild and dangerous, but because they are contained and managed, they feel they’re essentially harmless. What they don’t think about is that if they were ever to encounter those same animals on their own turf, their instinctual appetites to attack and consume us would reign supreme.
Likewise, the problems that these people see happening across the globe such natural disasters, totalitarian regimes, gross human rights violations, and of course foereign wars, are all understood as being bad or “dangerous” but as contained, manageable, and harmless (to themselves at least). At the end of the day they would prefer to ignore or forget about all of those problems and the powers and peoples that cause them. The problem with that is that, like wild animals in their native habitat, some of those peoples and powers out there are possessed of an instinctual appetite of their own to attack and consume our nation, our freedoms, and our lives. And some of those voracious powers, are fully capable of coming to us and are always on the prowl.
We Can’t Appreciate What We Can’t See
During the age of exploration, rather than leave the unexplored regions of their maps blank, map makers used to write the words “Here there be dragons” in the margins. It was done partly to give the map a little bit of a flair, but mostly it was meant to convey the dangerous nature of the unknown. We live in a time and culture that revels in ignorance and forgetfullness about the unexplored (i.e. unexamined) regions of the world (to say nothing of innate human nature) but don’t have to sense to see them as dragons.
This is more than unfortunate, it is dangerous, because there are in fact (sybolically speaking) dragons in the world, that seek to consume us. One of them, for instnance, is black, it has horns like a crescent moon, a single eye shaped like a star, and claws like scimitars that prowls about the Middle East. Another is a huge red dragon out of the Orient covered in a billion scales that sits on what appears to be a pile of gold, but is really a huge pile of bones. It breaths not fire, but toxic fumes which makes it prey sick so they can’t breath or speak.
Some may find comparing the world’s problems to dragons as silly (maybe even offensive) and are wondering what such imagery has to do with honoring the memories of the fallen soldiers on this Memorial Day. The reason our culture cannot appreciate a somber holiday like Memorial Day respectfully is because it is incapable of see the world outside of the flat and morally two-dimensional mindset of a post-Christian world. Hence, all of its problems are seen through the lenses of the “flesh and blood” of St. Paul speaks of in his letter to the Ephesians, instead of and ongoing struggle with “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.
If you cannot see or even acknowledge that reality, then you will not appreciate the gravity of the dangers of the world, and the valor of those who, whether conscripted or by choice, marched right into the shadow of the valley of death to do battle with the dragons of our world, so that you didn’t have to. Even the songs we sing on this day acknowledge this unseen reality, when America the Beautiful praises the “heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life!” Meanwhile the Battle Hym of the Republic sees in the “fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel” the “Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel.” There was a time when we could see these hidden realities and understood that while war was grim reality of our fallen world, how and why we fought them made all the difference in the world.
It is those soldiers and the memories of their deeds that we remember today. More importantly though, we honor the part they played in God’s providence to battle against the monsters of a "this present darkness" of this fallen world. So if you are so inclined, bow your head in respect for the sacrifice they made for their country and on behalf of the lives of others, but take a knee to say a prayer for the repose of their soul and that God’s will keeps marching on.
Photo Credit- wallsdesk.com