Memorial Day 2014

| May 26, 2014 | 0 Comments

What a spectacular Memorial Day. Crystal clear sky, pleasantly warm and getting ready for a bike ride to Arlington Cemetery with daughter Bridget.

As to the holiday, itself, I’ve always had mixed feelings. Fortunately, E.J. Dionne set me straight today in his column. He pointed out that Memorial Day is dedicated exclusively to the war dead. Veterans Day honors former soldiers both living and dead. I have no mixed feelings about honoring the dead.

However, I do get uneasy about the glorification of war implicit in both holidays. I know we are supposed to be endlessly grateful for those who have taken up military service to protect our country. We’re encouraged to say, “Thank you for your service” when encountering soldiers in airports. And we give them standing ovations at baseball games. I think that’s all fine.

However, I feel equal gratitude for those dedicating their lives to helping the disadvantaged, like volunteers at food banks, and teachers in inner city schools. Why don’t we have the same gratitude for those trained to improve the lives of our fellow human beings as we do for those who are trained, admittedly necessarily, to kill in our name, and our defense?

Rather than shower individuals who volunteer to serve in the military, I think we should help them. Protection of the country is everybody’s responsibility, as is caring for the needy. That is why we need a program of national service. Such a program would instill in everyone a sense of responsibility and commitment that is sorely lacking today. And redefining “service” to include life affirming activities would provide a constructive balance on what it means “to serve.”

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