This was originally printed here.
One of the things that struck me in travels through Scotland and the Canadian Maritimes was the monument in every town. Most of them were tiny, just a handful of names from each war–not because few died, but because the town was that small. The memorial at Edinburgh Castle, on the other hand, is of a scale and a simplistic majesty that imposes awe, a trick more church designers would like to have up their sleeves, I imagine.
Whatever the size, most memorials are central and public and impossible to overlook. That isn’t something we do well here in the U.S. Monuments are destinations, traveled to on special occasions. Memorial Day is a single day of remembrance, Veterans Day, one more, and the rest of the time, our veterans are treated as disposable.
Some volunteered; others answered a call not of their choosing. They risked their lives and health for us. Many died. Worse yet, many killed. Many lost people who had become, in some ways, closer than kin. And we give them a day for those who lived and a day for those who died and maybe a little space out of the way.
We suck at remembering.
Fallen soldiers at least get a day, though. There are others who have fought and died for our society who don’t get that. Nor did they fight with the resources of our military or approval of our government behind them. I’m talking about the culture warriors.
It’s tempting to pretend that “culture war” is just a colorful turn of phrase. It isn’t. People have died every time our country has been persuaded to recognize the right of another group to be considered full human beings.
Workers died organizing unions. Women died claiming control of their own destinies. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Jews, Irish, Italians, eastern Europeans–all have died insisting that no one people have a monopoly on humanity. Many people died for not keeping their sexuality or gender identity a secret. Others died because keeping that secret pushed them into shadows populated by predators.
They died because they challenged rules that were basely unfair. This made them outlaws in the eyes of many, stripped them of the protections we offer those who do not presume to transgress. This made them fair game, and they were hunted. Those who didn’t die rarely escaped without injury. No one offered them medals.
In the face of this, they persisted. Because of them, fewer of us are outlaws today. We can claim protection, imperfect as it is, that was won for us in the wars. Unlike many wars, these have made the world a better place.
So go out and enjoy that better world this weekend, but as you boat and picnic and enjoy family and friends, take a moment. Remember those soldiers whom we have promised to remember, and remember the others, who are too easily forgotten.
They fought for our freedom too.