As with almost anything of some substance in the United States, important events can be politicized and degraded by squabbling by those who would lay claim to origins, while others completely subjugate and co-opt, preferring to commercialize. Memorial Day, falls exactly into this convoluted category.
If you Google “origins of Memorial Day,” you are met with a couple of irrefutable realities. First, that the tradition goes back to one of the first memorial celebrations at the end of the American Civil War, and second, that there are loads of people trying to lay claim to “the first.”
In this article, two of the most popular dates/times are laid out, the first, and most popular being, “in Charleston, SC on May 1st, 1865. The Charleston Daily Courier reported at the time that former slaves — African Americans — honored 257 dead Union soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp.”
But…SNOPES…the online corrector of all that is factual and less than factual (yes…they are one of the most hit sites during this Presidential primary season), points out that there are countless similar “first ceremonies” in various locations, in and around the same time.
Does it matter? The single irrefutable fact is that people felt the need to decorate the graves of those who lost their lives in one of the ugliest chapters in our nation’s history, with nearly 1,100,000 casualties and more than 620,000 lives lost.
Which is why today, most American celebrate the event with bar-b-cues, camping trips, and “Three Day Sales” on bedding and summer clothing.
I am the first to admit that I am not a fan of war. Period. I hate the results…which in the “best case” leave countries devastated and torn long after the actual shooting is over. I am not even a fan of the new kind of “non-shooting” wars that are fought from the sky, with game-console jockeys carrying out “pinpoint strikes” on their selected targets by satellite reconnaissance.
But, I will never besmirch those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to serve the best interests of our country.
So, we decorate the graves, and shed tears of memories of lives cut short by our need to “keep the peace.” It is a confusing reality, which seems to be built into the frail fabric of humanity in a wash-rinse-repeat cycle of unending pain, destruction and celebrations and remembrances.
Celebrate today as you wish. It is not my place to determine the how, the why or the where. And if you get a great deal on new bedding, so much the better.
But as you do, take the time to say a small prayer of hope, that future generations can figure out a better way to foment peace in this world.