May 27, 2011

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Let’s not forget what Memorial Day should remember

Cynthia DewesWe’ve heard a lot about the Civil War lately since this year is the 150th anniversary of its beginning. Both the South and the North are jumping on the bandwagon of patriotic fervor, and well they should since the war ultimately unified us as a country.

Slavery had been the elephant in the room since the beginning of the republic. It took a civil war to eliminate it as a divisive roadblock to creating a nation.

It took another 100 years to legally put an end to the racial hatred created by slavery, but at least now we have the legal tools to stay on the road to actual freedom for all.

War is certainly hell, and the Civil War was the bloodiest ever, but it still remains popular in our imagination.

It is the same with World War II, which we like to call the last “just” war—if there is such a thing. We engaged in it because the world was confronted with evil forces so powerful that every honorable nation had to join the struggle to defeat them.

It seems now that the idea of a just or honorable or even necessary war is not possible. Motives of imperialism, greed and hatred are assigned to the perpetrators of modern wars, such as those in Vietnam, Bosnia and, sad to say, Iraq. It’s hard to identify genuine good guys on either side.

Memorial Day was created after the Civil War to honor its soldiers on both sides. It has continued to be celebrated ever since as a generalized memorial to those who keep our country safe. In the light of all that has happened since, are we hypocritical to keep it going?

To me, the answer is no. Now, more than ever, we need a memorial day to remind us that we are a nation based upon the idea that all (wo)men are created equal with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Civil War verified it, and it is our job to sustain the idea.

We may not always agree with our government’s decisions, but we are obligated to keep ourselves informed about why they are made. Freedom has a price, as they say. We must take part in the democratic process, which does not mean burning flags or shooting congresswomen we don’t like.

Rather, it means that we read, listen, discuss and think about issues affecting ourselves, our country and our world. We must also vote whenever we can, basing our votes on information from many sources other than prejudices and assumptions. And we must keep our congressional representatives and senators informed about what we believe on various legislative matters.

America has often been criticized by other nations as arrogant and parochial in the worst sense. They may think we are too self-satisfied, and too aggressive without considering other opinions.

We are too materialistic, too ignorant of the plight of poorer nations and too wasteful of our natural resources. Ironically, we seem to demand more oil just so we can become obese by never walking anywhere we can drive.

Now that terrorist leader Osama bin Laden is dead, we are faced with even more challenges.

Will the Taliban take revenge? Will Pakistan or others turn on us? It’s not easy being an American in this complicated world, and we’re all subject to being human.

But with God’s help, let us remember our honorable mission.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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