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Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

It's Memorial Day here in the United States. A national holiday, set aside for the nation to remember the fallen soldiers who, at least in theory, died fighting for the freedoms and the way of life that we all enjoy in our country. Driving around, we've seen flags flying. We've seen fire trucks and crowds at cemeteries, honoring the dead. There've been speeches by governors and even the president.

Some would argue that, in general, Americans take Memorial Day too lightly. It's always a three-day weekend (at least), and usually the spring-like weather is delightful. Americans head to the parks, beaches, picnics, lakes, and even back yards to barbecue, play yard games, go fishing, swim, water ski and a host of other outdoor activities. The naysayers are critical of all that fun. They think having all that fun means that Americans aren't remembering the soldiers who lost their lives for our freedoms at all.

I suppose on some levels, the naysayers have it right. Quite frankly, the notion of soldiers dying for our freedoms may seem like a pretty abstract notion to today's generations. I mean, we haven't had anyone die fighting for our freedom in a very long time. If our freedom has even been threatened by someone, we probably haven't been aware of it. The modern wars of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq all seem like wars of someone else that we waded into. For some, the reason we even sent soldiers to these wars is unclear.

And therein lies the problem. Our national Memorial Day was supposed to be an annual time set aside to remember and honor those who lost their lives fighting for our freedoms --- our right to live the way we live in America today (and even tomorrow). So there are two questions that could be asked. In fact they should be asked.

The first is who specifically we are honoring. Is it true that all the soldiers who have died did so on behalf of America's freedom? Have all the wars that America waded into been a threat somehow to the freedom of Americans? I'm not so sure. Let's look at a couple of examples.

We fought on the Korean peninsula, for example, against communism. If we won that war, it isn't clear. Perhaps it's safe to say that we won half of that war. And now we do a brisk business with the communists in China. If North Korean communists would just learn some social skills like China did, I bet we'd do a brisk business with them too!

We fought in Vietnam, again against communism. If anyone thinks we won that war, they are probably delusional. Those of us who were alive when America pulled out of it thought we were winning just by walking away. And the country fell to the communists. Today, life goes on pretty much as normal. And Americans do a brisk and growing business with those communists as well.

So what exactly did the men (and women) who died in the Korean and Vietnamese wars die for? Would we all agree that it was for the freedoms and rights of Americans? Isn't that something we should all be in agreement about - if we're going to declare a national holiday to honor them?

The second question that needs to be asked ... and answered, is whether or not this national holiday actually achieves what it set out to do. Do we remember the fallen military on Memorial Day each year? Do we honor them. The country officially does, I know that. But do the people in the country actually do that? What about things like Memorial Day Sales, where mattresses and furniture go on sale? Does that honor the fallen soldiers? What about having a picnic and playing lawn tennis? Does that bring a solemn remembrance of the fallen soldiers? If we were really going to stand, as a nation, in remembrance of the fallen soldiers, is this the best foot we can put forward?

I'm grateful that I am an American citizen. I'm grateful for the life I get to live. While the future is intimidating, I realize my past has been very, very blessed. I pray that I can be worthy of the sacrifice that many have made to give me that blessed life. Now, if only I could know who those people specifically were ... and what I could do to be worthy ... I think my Memorial Day would be complete.

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