Memorial Day is one of two days on which we are urged to remember our dead, especially those who have died in service of their country. I do not mean everyone who has died in service of the country — not the firefighters or the police officers or the legislative aides or the mothers or the garbage collectors — but specifically the men and women of the armed forces.
A handful of Americans observe the holiday by visiting cemeteries where they might see a fifteen minute honor guard ceremony combined with a twenty to sixty minute talk by an officer declaring how each and every one of the souls marked with an American flag gave his or her all to the cause of the country even if they never went overseas and died in their sleep of old age.
Most Americans do not attend these ceremonies or watch them on television unless they happen to catch a clip on the evening news. Many a politician has doubtless been surprised by the requirement to attend Memorial Day events even though no one else other than a uniformed honor guard and a squad of generals and admirals comes. These remember Memorial Day as celebrated by so many others: a day spent enjoying the sun and drinking large quantities of alcoholic beverages.
Memorial Day Weekend is, in fact, one of — if not the — worst holidays for highway road fatalities. It is a queer custom to celebrate the accomplishments of the dead by creating more of them, but that is what is done here in the United States. Many drink, drive, and die.
Perhaps this is why we appreciate the efforts of the men and women in Iraq, why we send them to perish so cheaply. We’ve lost our sense of what it means to suffer and to die. We are a nation of Hummers and Jeeps, powerboats and jetskis, motorcycles and four wheel ATVs. Gas fumes come out of our tailpipes nearly as dark as the smoke piling out of a crematoria. Blood never passes our lips except when we visit the dentist: we are out of touch with the rigors of war. The television goes off when the bad news from Iraq comes in. We don’t turn it on to remember the dead of this war or other wars.
Yes, America is a strange country. I have never been able to fathom it, but then they call me crazy. To an American, another American’s life is cheap. Understand that attitude and you will understand our Memorial Day, our politics, and our willingness to send our sons and daughters into the way of danger while we chug beer.