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May 27 2013

Fallen Warriors

Each year, I expect that I will have more to say about Memorial Day, but as wars drag on and technology changes, it’s remarkable how much stays the same. A repost.

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.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    Kevin

    Nice essay.

    I probably would term it “human rights struggle” instead of “culture war”. But the effect is the same.

  2. 2
    kevinalexander

    I wonder if that’s how America maintains it’s war culture, by ignoring the real names and real faces of real people?

  3. 3
    Xaivius (Formerly Robpowell, Acolyte of His Majesty Lord Niel DeGrasse Tyson I)

    @Kenivalexander

    As a veteran and a friend to many other veterans often in and out of the VA hospital system: Yes. This is exactly what happens. Veterans are considered useless moochers who are faking injuries to get disability in a number of cases throughout the VA, and it gets worse daily due to lax oversight of the Agency.

    Fuck these wars and the people who thought they were a good idea.

  4. 4
    kevinalexander

    I also thought of the Bonus Marchers. After WWI was over all the weapons makers got paid but the vets had to march on Washington to get promised bonuses. Congress told them to fuck off and Hoover turned the army on them.

  5. 5
    Kathy Orlinsky

    I got into an argument with someone over whether Memorial Day is an acceptable time to talk about the problems with our military. My position is that the day you’re commemorating dead soldiers is the perfect day to call for there being fewer dead soldiers. It’s also a good day to talk about other kinds of fallen heroes. Thanks for the reminder, Stephanie!

  6. 6
    Setár, Elvenkitty

    Kevin #1:

    I probably would term it “human rights struggle” instead of “culture war”. But the effect is the same.

    Much as I hate war, I think no other option exists. The enemies of human rights treat it as a war; worse, they act as though they are allowed to do anything in order to win (including applying the rules of war to us but not themselves).

  7. 7
    mildlymagnificent

    Most of them were tiny, just a handful of names from each war–not because few died, but because the town was that small.

    Heard a good comment on this phenomenon in Australian country towns during the week of Anzac Day, everyone’s got one. Why?

    Among other things, it’s a substitute for a cemetery. In the “Great” wars, the dead were buried near where they fell. Those grieving at home had nowhere to go as a memorial. So every town (and they all lost people) had no trouble getting citizens and clubs and councils together to raise those memorials where everyone could see all the names.

    Shame we can’t do the same for all the others in the ongoing wars even though they might have headstones and their own private memorials. I think most unions would have rolls of honour for their dead, but they were mostly in meeting places or offices which are no longer directly involved with the communities concerned. . And there’s very little chance for others. MLK Day serves as a focus for blacks in the US. But what about indigenous people everywhere – Canada and New Zealand might have something worthwhile for the rest of us to emulate but I don’t know much about those.

  8. 8
    Drewzilla

    “Many died. Worse yet, many killed.”

    A beautiful, yet heart wrenching, turn of phrase, Stephanie. I think it’s too often that people focus on the aspect of war in which they, themselves, might die but it’s important to recognise the fact that the ones who don’t expire often suffer more, and for much longer periods, because of the atrocities they were forced to commit.

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