WASHINGTON, May 26, 2014 — Like the topic of death itself, Memorial Day tends to conjure up issues people would rather not discuss. It is much easier to throw a barbeque together and celebrate a Monday holiday in the company of family and good friends.
Memorial Day was born from the ashes and loss as a result of the Civil War of the United States. The incredibly painful experience of the loss of so many men and boys prompted the Veteran’s Association to provide a practical means for the families and survivors to mourn and honor their loved ones and family members, just as Lincoln prescribed in his Gettysburg Address.
Following the Civil War, the nation survived despite incredible odds that it would not. Today, most Americans take it for granted that the United States would endure that civil war.
However, hindsight is insulated from the intensity and turbulence of the moment.
To Abraham Lincoln it was not a certainty that the Union would prevail. It is difficult to reason differently when Lincoln used the words in his Gettysburg Address: “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived (one conceived in Liberty) and so dedicated (one dedicated to Equality) can long endure.”
That such a nation, so conceived and so dedicated, was not assured of lasting for a significant period of time is a sobering thought. It is disturbingly similar to confronting one’s own mortality, although on a larger scale.
Unfortunately, Memorial Day is not the most pleasant of holidays due to its original and fundamental purpose. It originated as a day to deal with the painful experience of the nation’s loss of life on a massive scale.
Memorial Day continued to represent the day to remember the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in service to their country on some distant or foreign battlefield.
Today, for families of those who are currently serving in the military in an overseas mission, Memorial Day can brush against the subconscious dread of being called upon to offer one’s life for the sake of the nation. Because of these deeper implications embedded within the meaning of Memorial Day, it has been more traditionally a somber day of celebration.
Americans are often comfortable with skating upon the surface of issues, and especially so when an issue involves death or dying. It is not that Americans cannot deal with the subject of death in a practical or mature way, it is just that dealing with such a depressing subject may strike a nerve which can evoke deeper emotions of pain, loss, and fear, and anger.
It is safer to skate on the surface rather than plunging into the icy waters of issues surrounding death and dying.
Anyone’s death can unleash great emotional agony within the circle of survivors. But especially, with the death of one who died serving in the military. Not only are deep emotional sentiments are dredged up, but social and political issues erupt over the loss of loved ones who will never return home to their families.
Yet in a deeper sense, those who gave their lives for the sake of their country can often be shortchanged, or their value dimisnished, as such a concept is more fully examined.
Of course, to die for one’s country can be characterized as cliché in this day and age, with so much cynicism swirling in various quarters of the nation. Those who are willing to give their lives for their country can be looked down upon as senseless patriotic zealots, or worse, as some type of “warmonger” by those who have such a disregard for the value of the men and women who swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Ironically, those who swear an oath to protect and defend the country and the Constitution of the United States basically are ready to offer their lives in sacrifice for the protection of the very ones who are filled with contempt or disdain for the men and women in uniform who would risk their lives for the sake of others.
Those who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of their country should not be shortchanged, nor should their value be diminished, in a society founded upon the principles of Freedom, Equality, and Liberty for all.
Lincoln got it right in those desperate days of conflict in the Republic long, long ago. He urged the survivors, the living, “to be dedicated to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
It is not that complex a task to reason regarding the “cause” for which the honored dead of the Union Army sacrificed their lives. It went far beyond “for the sake of their country” which resonates more with a “nationalistic” goal.
The men and boys of the Army of the Republic sacrificed for Liberty itself, for a land in which a free people could inhabit and be capable of broadening and strengthenng freedom and liberty for all.
Abraham Lincoln’s conclusion, the hope that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom …” is so very powerful. It was as if Lincoln were trying to personally will it to be so; such was his resolve.
The cause of Freedom and Liberty for all was the prime cause for which those in uniform were called upon to offer their lives. If those brave men and boys of the Army of the Republic had not been willing to sacrifice their lives in that dark time, the history of this nation would have turned out much, much differently – most likely with the destruction of the Union and the prolongation of the institution of slavery.
Definitely, they did not die in vain.
And throughout other dark times, the history of this nation and the world would have turned out very differently if there weren’t those brave men and women who remained dedicated to their oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America with their very lives. But in a larger sense, their cause was for Freedom and for Liberty. Patrick Henry’s immortal words laid the very foundation for such perception when he proclaimed: “Give me Liberty or give me death!”
Hopefully, Americans will never forget that Freedom is is so incredibly precious, and Liberty can be more valuable than life itself.