Memorial Day Thoughts
My Country, right or wrong.
Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a holiday dedicated to mourning U.S. military personnel who’ve died for our country. It is an interesting holiday. In practice, it’s a long weekend where most of the country visits with family, takes a short trip or goes outdoors. Few use it as a day of mourning.
I’m not one to press upon people to treat the holiday with solemn sadness. It’s not really in American nature either. Most Americans are generally positive, upbeat, and revelatory when they can, compared with many of our European cousins. It’s interesting, however, that the holiday is mainly absent of the rituals seen in the Commonwealth tied to Remembrance Day, or Poppy Day, with public displays of mourning.
I was recently told by some newly separated veterans that the frequency of combat deployments has dwindled to the rare and occasional even among elite infantry units. While this is a good thing, I find it mildly strange to be in the position of telling war stories to warfighters who were without a fight. I find myself increasingly holding back on storytelling as I age. Frequently, I don’t know if I say what happened for my edification or someone else’s entertainment, and either way, I don’t find it worthwhile.
Now, this sounds heretical as demand during the Global War on Terrorism (do people still get this medal?) spawned a cottage industry of military storytelling. Not having a trident or the most interesting personality means I didn’t get to cash out, but it’s for the best. We don’t need that many podcasts, coffee companies, motivational t-shirts, or whatever else. Instead, taking time to consider the human costs of conflict and the lost futures of so many is worthwhile.
Going to war made me understand the phrase, “Don’t be a hero.” Hollywood often gets the connotation wrong. Heroes used in the context I saw in Afghanistan were American and Allied service members killed in action. A monitor would have a news ticker with reports in the Tactical Operations Centers and Watch Floors. Some reports contained information about troops in contact, others about medical evacuations, and more status updates. The worst ones were when the capitalized HERO scrolled past with the new hero's name, country, branch, and rank. The loss of life wasn’t the only horror captured on the ticker, but the wounded-in-action, including the dreaded improvised explosive device strikes. The casualties of war continued well after the battlefield, however.
Many friends of mine also took their own lives. There’s much speculation around each one, and no one knows the answers. Often, many people suffer in silence for too long, attempt to self-medicate, suffer further, and spiral out of control. Apathy is common. The other complicating factor is the tough guy mentality. I’ve grown fond of telling people that being tough only counts in the margins. It’s better to call out for help.
These maladies affect many Americans outside the veterans' community as well. Tragedy plays out every day in the United States. I wish it weren’t so; however, the apathy-fueled meatgrinder often takes the most vulnerable and discarded veterans, particularly the young men finding a cold, hostile, liberal, open society.
U.S. Navy Commodore Stephen Decatur once said, “Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” My country, right or wrong. Those too involved in politics online often love to lean into trashing the country and demeaning military service. War never changes, nor do hippies. Instead of being spat on, people mock you online and deny you work. Media and social media have propagandists that encourage self-loathing and loathing of one's home. Turning them off is very important. However, you should never allow worm tongues, foreign interlopers, and others whose first instinct is to sow discord to harm your dignity or tell you your country is not worthwhile.
Our homeland is worthwhile. America is the only home we have (for most of us), and there’s no escape. The United States is entering a period of geopolitical competition and global instability it hasn’t seen in a long time. Burdens will be substantial. Hardships will be endured. Enemies will be fought. Futures will be built. However, square your shoulders up to the tasks before us once again. We will persevere by God, fortune, and skill. Take time to remember those who don’t make it back home or fall along the way. They had one home too, and it’s up to the living to honor the promise of the future they never fulfilled.