The widespread jingoism which arises on Memorial Day usually sends me into hiding so as not to ruffle star-spangled feathers of sentimental hawks. Yet this year, I'm going out on a limb and perch next to a few hawks and remind them of a history that I think deeply enriches this day and makes room for those who have served their country in the armed services and room for those who have not served with a weapon but who do the hard work of peace-making.
The original title of Memorial Day was Decoration Day. Started after the Civil War it had the twin purposes of Remembrance and Reconciliation. Remembrance was a call to remember those soldiers who, on both sides of the conflict, lost their lives; Reconciliation was to build a peace, peace on an ongoing basis.
My father is a WWII Veteran. He is proud of his service. It was service that contributed to the halt of fascism. It came at a great price. He was lucky in that he was not physically wounded. His wounds did not show in a missing limb or worse. He was able to move on with his life, or so it appeared. His wounds emerged with a temper wired to a hair trigger tripped by domestic incidentals such as missing car keys, a crookedly mowed lawn, a spot on his trousers, spilled milk. Then and at other seemingly insignificant occurrences his anger would spill out in a loud, profane utterance and he would be white-lipped with rage. He would try to displace responsibility for his own emotions onto his children, onto his wife, onto some "goddamnsonofabitchincocksucking" other. Later, he would seek solace in the garage or in his garden. Still later he would collapse into his recliner and withdraw behind a curtain of newspaper.
Disorder was an enemy, yet the range of what was proper and correct was so narrow and so ill-defined at the same time that my brothers and I were constantly trespassing upon the minefield of his emotions. His scars were passed onto us; his trauma--transfigured, yes--became ours.
His trauma was vague to us and all encompassing. We grew up seeking clarification, some clue from Dad, some essential architecture upon which we could hang what had become our emotional baggage. Sadly, he was unable to even admit to his confusion and the currents of alienation he experienced from his own family.
Memorial Day became, for me, an obstacle to working this stuff out. I worried about sounding ungrateful regarding Dad's and other veteran's sacrifices. I worry less about that now. I know that any observance of war time duty that does not at the same time seek reconciliation is a glorification of war and a justification of policies, often policies based on greed or fear, that serve not the American people but the narrow interests of a few who remain, by and large, the storm makers for the weather we all end up facing.