We had some of my husband’s relatives in town over Memorial Day weekend, and as we were driving somewhere on Memorial Day itself, I mentioned how my Grandmother had insisted on calling it “Decoration Day” her entire life. That she had, in fact, died literally in the middle of putting silk flowers on the grave of my Great-aunt Maud on the Friday before Memorial Day, because to her the holiday had always been about putting flowers on the graves of all of your family members who had passed away, and having a family gathering to celebrate the lives of our loved ones no longer with us. To which my sister-in-law said, “That’s how I grew up celebrating it, too! Sometimes with a picnic at the cemetery.”
It was later that I saw a cartoon that talked about how every even vaguely-patriot holiday seems to be inexorably transformed into Veteran’s Day: so Memorial Day is now Veteran’s Day May, Independence Day is now Veteran’s Day July, Labor Day is sometimes Veteran’s Day September, and the actual Veteran’s Day is now merely Veteran’s Day November.
If Flag Day joins that list I’m going to start slapping people.
I saw that a lot of news sites had posted articles like this one: Why you shouldn’t confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Of course, I thought that maybe the cartoon was going a bit far when it suggested people were confusing Labor Day with Veterans day, until I saw this story: Get it straight: The difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day which mentions seeing “thank the troops” events being scheduled on Labor Day.
This lunacy must stop. I know that my own wish to keep the original (and it does predate the declaration of the first memorial day for troops issued by General Logan in 1868 by decades) meaning of the May holiday as a day to commemorate the lives of all of our loved ones who have died is probably a lost battle. But this re-defining of patriotism as supporting the troops (which has itself already very unpatriotically been re-defined as supporting the notion of sending troops to die to further political aims rather than to actually defend the nation), and therefore coopting all other commemorations of our nation’s history and principles into yet another chance to thank the troops, isn’t just annoying, it’s dangerous.
We’re currently in the middle of a war on “terror” which is being used by government officials of both parties to trample all over our civil rights and the Constitution itself. The vast transfer of completely inappropriate military hardware to police departments is a direct result of this ill-conceived and poorly-defined war. A war which is not being waged against an actual threat, but merely the idea of possible threats. And the escalating violence by police against the citizens they are supposed to protect is enabled and excused because of a myth we’ve been sold that these are people risking their lives to protect us, therefore we must support the cops, because not doing so would be the same as not supporting the troops, and we already know that all patriots always support the troops.
And let’s not forget the actual men and women in uniform who were sent to Iraq because of lies (which Bush administration officials are finally admitting they were intentional lies), far too many of whom have come home wounded, maimed, and otherwise in need of care which our congresscritters seem unwilling to pay for. I’m still one of those weirdos who thinks that the first step in supporting the troops is not to vote for politicians who authorized military action when it isn’t needed, and not to vote for those who don’t adequately fund veterans’ hospitals, et cetera.
We don’t have the funds to pay returning veterans a living wage or get them proper medical care, but we do have money to pay for things like this: US Defense Department paid 14 NFL teams $5.4M to honor soldiers. The NFL didn’t give free tickets to those soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines. Each of those tickets was paid for by your tax dollars! And the tickets are a fraction of the amount paid to the league. But the money is well spent, according to the folks who approved the contracts, because it’s a great recruiting tool.
So we are paying a very successful business millions of tax dollars to pretend to be patriotic in order to distract us from asking questions about why those troops are being sent into harm’s way and to lure more people into volunteering to be sent into harm’s way. You can’t get more capitalist or cynical than that!
Let’s stop blurring the lines between the holidays. Let’s stop blurring the lines between supporting the troops and supporting the politicians and industries that profit from exploiting the troops. Let’s stop blurring patriotism into cynicism—while we still can!