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Author Topic: Memorial Day stands for what?  (Read 1971 times)

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Offline mecch

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Memorial Day stands for what?
« on: May 28, 2011, 08:41:17 PM »
Was watching the various news programs.

Was wondering why Washington leaders are so willing to waste just one more American life in Afghanistan? 

Getting out of there seems so slow moving.   >:(
“From each, according to his ability; to each, according to his need” 1875 K Marx

Offline Joe K

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #1 on: May 31, 2011, 01:09:53 AM »
Here is a New York Times article on the origins of Memorial Day in the US.

May 29, 2011

Forgetting Why We Remember

By DAVID W. BLIGHT

MOST Americans know that Memorial Day is about honoring the nation’s war dead. It is also a holiday devoted to department store sales, half-marathons, picnics, baseball and auto racing. But where did it begin, who created it, and why?

At the end of the Civil War, Americans faced a formidable challenge: how to memorialize 625,000 dead soldiers, Northern and Southern. As Walt Whitman mused, it was “the dead, the dead, the dead — our dead — or South or North, ours all” that preoccupied the country. After all, if the same number of Americans per capita had died in Vietnam as died in the Civil War, four million names would be on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, instead of 58,000.

Officially, in the North, Memorial Day emerged in 1868 when the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization, called on communities to conduct grave-decorating ceremonies. On May 30, funereal events attracted thousands of people at hundreds of cemeteries in countless towns, cities and mere crossroads. By the 1870s, one could not live in an American town, North or South, and be unaware of the spring ritual.

But the practice of decorating graves — which gave rise to an alternative name, Decoration Day — didn’t start with the 1868 events, nor was it an exclusively Northern practice. In 1866 the Ladies’ Memorial Association of Columbus, Ga., chose April 26, the anniversary of Gen. Joseph Johnston’s final surrender to Gen. William T. Sherman, to commemorate fallen Confederate soldiers. Later, both May 10, the anniversary of Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s death, and June 3, the birthday of Jefferson Davis, were designated Confederate Memorial Day in different states.

Memorial Days were initially occasions of sacred bereavement, and from the war’s end to the early 20th century they helped forge national reconciliation around soldierly sacrifice, regardless of cause. In North and South, orators and participants frequently called Memorial Day an “American All Saints Day,” likening it to the European Catholic tradition of whole towns marching to churchyards to honor dead loved ones.

But the ritual quickly became the tool of partisan memory as well, at least through the violent Reconstruction years. In the South, Memorial Day was a means of confronting the Confederacy’s defeat but without repudiating its cause. Some Southern orators stressed Christian notions of noble sacrifice. Others, however, used the ritual for Confederate vindication and renewed assertions of white supremacy. Blacks had a place in this Confederate narrative, but only as time-warped loyal slaves who were supposed to remain frozen in the past.

The Lost Cause tradition thrived in Confederate Memorial Day rhetoric; the Southern dead were honored as the true “patriots,” defenders of their homeland, sovereign rights, a natural racial order and a “cause” that had been overwhelmed by “numbers and resources” but never defeated on battlefields.

Yankee Memorial Day orations often righteously claimed the high ground of blood sacrifice to save the Union and destroy slavery. It was not uncommon for a speaker to honor the fallen of both sides, but still lay the war guilt on the “rebel dead.” Many a lonely widow or mother at these observances painfully endured expressions of joyous death on the altars of national survival.

Some events even stressed the Union dead as the source of a new egalitarian America, and a civic rather than a racial or ethnic definition of citizenship. In Wilmington, Del., in 1869, Memorial Day included a procession of Methodists, Baptists, Unitarians and Catholics; white Grand Army of the Republic posts in parade with a black post; and the “Mount Vernon Cornet Band (colored)” keeping step with the “Irish Nationalists with the harp and the sunburst flag of Erin.”

But for the earliest and most remarkable Memorial Day, we must return to where the war began. By the spring of 1865, after a long siege and prolonged bombardment, the beautiful port city of Charleston, S.C., lay in ruin and occupied by Union troops. Among the first soldiers to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the 21st United States Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the city’s official surrender.

Whites had largely abandoned the city, but thousands of blacks, mostly former slaves, had remained, and they conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war.

The largest of these events, forgotten until I had some extraordinary luck in an archive at Harvard, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the city’s Washington Race Course and Jockey Club into an outdoor prison. Union captives were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.

After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

The symbolic power of this Low Country planter aristocracy’s bastion was not lost on the freedpeople, who then, in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged a parade of 10,000 on the track. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.”

The procession was led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing the Union marching song “John Brown’s Body.” Several hundred black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantrymen. Within the cemetery enclosure a black children’s choir sang “We’ll Rally Around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner” and spirituals before a series of black ministers read from the Bible.

After the dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantrymen participating were the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th United States Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite.

The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African-Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic. They were themselves the true patriots.

Despite the size and some newspaper coverage of the event, its memory was suppressed by white Charlestonians in favor of their own version of the day. From 1876 on, after white Democrats took back control of South Carolina politics and the Lost Cause defined public memory and race relations, the day’s racecourse origin vanished.

Indeed, 51 years later, the president of the Ladies’ Memorial Association of Charleston received an inquiry from a United Daughters of the Confederacy official in New Orleans asking if it was true that blacks had engaged in such a burial rite in 1865; the story had apparently migrated westward in community memory. Mrs. S. C. Beckwith, leader of the association, responded tersely, “I regret that I was unable to gather any official information in answer to this.”

Beckwith may or may not have known about the 1865 event; her own “official” story had become quite different and had no place for the former slaves’ march on their masters’ racecourse. In the struggle over memory and meaning in any society, some stories just get lost while others attain mainstream recognition.

AS we mark the Civil War’s sesquicentennial, we might reflect on Frederick Douglass’s words in an 1878 Memorial Day speech in New York City, in which he unwittingly gave voice to the forgotten Charleston marchers.

He said the war was not a struggle of mere “sectional character,” but a “war of ideas, a battle of principles.” It was “a war between the old and the new, slavery and freedom, barbarism and civilization ... and in dead earnest for something beyond the battlefield.” With or against Douglass, we still debate the “something” that the Civil War dead represent.

The old racetrack is gone, but an oval roadway survives on the site in Hampton Park, named for Wade Hampton, former Confederate general and the governor of South Carolina after the end of Reconstruction. The old gravesite of the Martyrs of the Race Course is gone too; they were reinterred in the 1880s at a national cemetery in Beaufort, S.C.

But the event is no longer forgotten. Last year I had the great honor of helping a coalition of Charlestonians, including the mayor, Joseph P. Riley, dedicate a marker to this first Memorial Day by a reflecting pool in Hampton Park.

By their labor, their words, their songs and their solemn parade on their former owners’ racecourse, black Charlestonians created for themselves, and for us, the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.

David W. Blight, a professor of history and the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale, is the author of the forthcoming “American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era.”

Offline skeebo1969

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #2 on: May 31, 2011, 05:04:44 AM »
Getting out of there seems so slow moving.   >:(

I agree, wish they would just bring them home already.
I despise the song Love is in the Air, you should too.

Offline MarcoPoz

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #3 on: May 31, 2011, 03:00:51 PM »
I'm a combat veteran.  Insert PTSD joke here_____________.  Anyway, using words like 'waste' is difficult to hear sometimes.

Offline bocker3

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #4 on: May 31, 2011, 10:25:33 PM »
I'm a combat veteran.  Insert PTSD joke here_____________.  Anyway, using words like 'waste' is difficult to hear sometimes.

I couldn't agree more -- I'm a combat vet myself. 
While I understand the thought behind the original message, the word "waste" is a poor choice.  However, I also know that it is hard for anyone who hasn't faced to combat to understand (not a slam, just a fact).

Thanks for your service.....

Mike
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Offline Grinch

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #5 on: May 31, 2011, 10:58:25 PM »
Much like people that are not poz can not understand what those of us that are experience and fear daily; those that have never fired shots in anger can not understand why words like "a waste" would bother those that have.

I forgive both their transgressions as they simply don't understand.

Offline Ann

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #6 on: June 01, 2011, 08:20:36 AM »
Marco, Mike and Grinch - I hear what you're getting at and it makes me interested to know what you would accept as more appropriate language. (and I hope you three think this is a fair question coming from someone who spends time on a regular basis educating people on what is the more appropriate language which with to discuss hiv as well as sexual health in general)

On both an intellectual level and an emotional one, I can empathise with your dislike of the usage of the word waste. What would you use? I'm wondering if "to expend" would be an acceptable replacement for "to waste" in the OP's original statement/question:

"Was wondering why Washington leaders are so willing to expend just one more American life in Afghanistan?"





edited for clarity and a typo
« Last Edit: June 01, 2011, 08:27:53 AM by Ann »
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"...health will finally be seen not as a blessing to be wished for, but as a human right to be fought for." Kofi Annan

Nymphomaniac: a woman as obsessed with sex as an average man. Mignon McLaughlin

HIV is certainly character-building. It's made me see all of the shallow things we cling to, like ego and vanity. Of course, I'd rather have a few more T-cells and a little less character. Randy Shilts

Offline Grinch

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #7 on: June 01, 2011, 09:11:41 AM »
Expend may be a better word as it changes the sentence significantly. As a bit of an explanation: Few Soliders (used all inclusive of all fighting men and women) enjoy the act of war. It is uncomfortable, lonely, boring, and frightening. Leaving war is perhaps more difficult than living war.  Feelings of guilt at surviving while leaving your friends behind can be overwhelming. Surviving and leaving is the the one focus we have while deployed as we count down the days to go home.  Once we get home however the realty of where we've been and what we've done sinks in.  It can be debilitating.
As we leave the war behind us and begin to live again only by believing what we did was right, just, and necessary do we begin to move on. Calling what we did a waste invalidates this process and calls into question the sacrifices we and those we left behind made.
Question those that sent us to fight if you choose, but understand that the soldier on the ground may disagree with your reasoning as he has seen things that the media and civillians have not. One child saved may make the acts he committed OK in his mind. This may not be logical but it is what it is.

Offline Ann

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #8 on: June 01, 2011, 09:50:15 AM »
Grinch, yes, I've read a fair amount on the psyche of the soldier and understood the objections to the word waste, from a soldiers point of view. Thank you for clarifying from your personal point of view.

It's just a shame that we're more closely related to the war-like chimpanzees, rather than the more peace-loving gorillas. :-\
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"...health will finally be seen not as a blessing to be wished for, but as a human right to be fought for." Kofi Annan

Nymphomaniac: a woman as obsessed with sex as an average man. Mignon McLaughlin

HIV is certainly character-building. It's made me see all of the shallow things we cling to, like ego and vanity. Of course, I'd rather have a few more T-cells and a little less character. Randy Shilts

Offline Hellraiser

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #9 on: June 01, 2011, 11:27:57 AM »
Instead of wasted or expended I would use "sacrifice".  I'm quite the pacifist though.  Very few things must be settled with violence.

Offline mecch

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #10 on: June 01, 2011, 02:53:32 PM »
My intent is not to slander or insult or hurt soldiers or veterans.
The meaning I meant was - what is the politicians justification for putting lives at risk?  The trumped up ones of 10 years ago have long been discredited.  
It would be good to move fast now to get out.

My post was questioning politicians and politics that keeps the US military in that Afghan war.  Not the service people in the military.  

Necessarily behind my statement is my moral judgement that this is a unnecessary fight. Therefore, the verb "to waste" does fit what I feel.
1. To use, consume, spend, or expend thoughtlessly or carelessly.

It is unfortunate that the word as a noun means trash, unwanted substance, etc.  

In my opinion, a soldier's life lost today in Afghanistan is a careless use of a precious life.  Once again, that is NOT a slander on the military. Its a criticism aimed at a Senate and President that drags its heels keeping the US at war.

________________

I understand Memorial Day as a day of honoring and remembering soldiers who gave their lives for their country, and to honor the families who live with that sacrifice.  

It made me think of the over 200 dead already this year in Afghanistan and hope that the government honors the military - and uses it wisely.  And doesn't spend months and years dragging its heels on unwise use.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2011, 03:39:50 PM by mecch »
“From each, according to his ability; to each, according to his need” 1875 K Marx

Offline mecch

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #11 on: June 01, 2011, 03:47:41 PM »

Question those that sent us to fight if you choose, but understand that the soldier on the ground may disagree with your reasoning as he has seen things that the media and civillians have not. One child saved may make the acts he committed OK in his mind. This may not be logical but it is what it is.

Agreed.

But that is an individual justification.  Human.

One child saved from what, in afghanistan?  Afghanistan poses no threat to the US.  If the objective is social engineering, send in humanitarian groups and international peace keeping forces.

If I were in a family in the USA that is to lose a service member this year, in that war, I would cherish the commitment of the soldier to his army and to his commander to do his/her job, as asked.  And be hopping angry at the government that made my family make this sacrifice.  Its just my opinion.  Obviously not shared by those who do feel that the US would never send its military to unjust wars.   

“From each, according to his ability; to each, according to his need” 1875 K Marx

Offline pozniceguy

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #12 on: June 01, 2011, 05:10:12 PM »
years  ago when I  was in a position in the Military  that allowed me to be closely informed about decisions to send in  "support"  of  various kinds to areas  around the world, this type of  discussion was very intense,  no one in a  decision making role  was anxious or careless about allowing troop type  "support missions"...  the primary  driver of the  type of  support was  from  the  security/political  end of the decision makers...  troops in  was NEVER the  first option......   
the  primary  discussion revolves around "roles and missions"    who  does what for  whatever purpose..   so  when a "troop support"  (  any branch of  service)  was deemed the appropriate  measure it was only after  most other actions had been deleted as  not  appropriate  for the mission...   
always  keep in mind that in the USA  the Military is controlled by Civilian management....mostly  Political  appointees  an a few elected officials.....  all the  backup information  comes from various civil service  agencies with a military input.....    there is  no one  individual that has the actual power/authority  to send  troops....technically  the  President  as Commander in chief  can issue orders to the Military  branches...but troop  movements  dont happen with a wave of the hand or a note  from the president..it takes many levels of  agreement  to accomplish  "troops in"  type  participation
unfortunately  it takes even more to get a "troops out "   decision/action into place    .....

Nick



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Offline bocker3

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #13 on: June 01, 2011, 10:19:22 PM »
I think Grinch got to the heart of all.  I agree the "expend" would be preferable.
The term "waste" can imply that the service and sacrifice of the soldier is a waste.  I actually got Mecch's intent -- however the word leaves a bad taste because it can cause feelings that the men serving were somehow wrong to do so (again -- I ddin't think that was the OP's intent).  Sort of a flashback to the treatment of Vietnam vets when they returned.

Whether we should or should not be in a war is not ultimately important when looking at the service and sacrifice of the troops.  They do as they are told and serve in good faith.  The politics are the politics.

Thanks for the question Ann.

Mike
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Offline Ann

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #14 on: June 02, 2011, 08:52:15 AM »
They do as they are told and serve in good faith.

I think the above statement says it all. Particularly the in good faith part.

I grew up during the Vietnam era (born in '62) and I thought nightly body counts on the six o'clock news was "normal". As I got older, I realised it was not normal. I became anti-war and as a teen and young adult I did a lot of reading about some of the atrocities committed by governments around the world, all in the name of "peace" - or religion. What a crock.

I also witnessed first-hand how the Vietnam vets were treated. I knew these were good guys who were put into an impossible situation by their government. It broke my heart and continues to break my heart to this day.

Fast-forward to current times. My daughter started going out with a soldier about five years ago. Given my anti-war mind-set, I wasn't sure what to make of it. I worried what effects war would have on him and by association, my daughter (he's served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and is still in the army although currently not on a tour). I couldn't understand how in this day and age, any intelligent person would voluntarily enlist to fight wars in places where we have no business being.

And slowly I realised this lad is doing what he's doing in good faith. I've realised I have no right to question him where this is concerned. He's doing what he feels in his heart is the right thing to do. And he's doing it in good faith.

It's been a tough journey for me. We fall in love with who we fall in love with and I wouldn't dream of advising my daughter to not be with this young man, although I have to admit I was sorely tempted in the early days. I hoped it would fizzle out. But she does love him and I have to support that and that means I also have to support him. This is why I've done some reading on the psychological aspects of being a soldier, as I mentioned earlier. I want to try to understand so I can support them both.

Before this little exchange, I probably would have, given the right conversation, used the word "waste" in the context we're discussing and not thought twice about it, despite what I've read elsewhere. So thank you for opening my eyes a little wider. One thing this and the broader experience with my daughter and her boyfriend has taught me is the true meaning of "support our troops" - and it does not mean I have to support war.
« Last Edit: June 02, 2011, 08:53:47 AM by Ann »
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"...health will finally be seen not as a blessing to be wished for, but as a human right to be fought for." Kofi Annan

Nymphomaniac: a woman as obsessed with sex as an average man. Mignon McLaughlin

HIV is certainly character-building. It's made me see all of the shallow things we cling to, like ego and vanity. Of course, I'd rather have a few more T-cells and a little less character. Randy Shilts

Offline mecch

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Offline Joe K

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #16 on: June 02, 2011, 12:01:39 PM »
Was wondering why Washington leaders are so willing to waste just one more American life in Afghanistan? 

I understand what the OP was trying to say and I agree that the word "waste" is inappropriate when used to describe our actual troops, but not in relation to the actions of our elected leaders.  Bush started an illegal war in Iraq, that put thousands of our troops in harms way.  Given those facts, I am comfortable stating that Mr. Bush & Company had no issue with wasting our national resources, through an illegal war, by expending untold numbers of one of our most precious resources: our soldiers.

Offline MarcoPoz

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Re: Memorial Day stands for what?
« Reply #17 on: June 07, 2011, 01:30:18 PM »
Mecch,

I apologize if my initial post sounded at all disrespectful was not intended to be.  Matter of fact I mostly agree with your sentiment.  I just had a veteran's knee jerk reaction to a single word--mostly because what I feared most was having the men I was responsible for die in a wasteful cause.  Sadly, when I look at things critically and after a few years to deal with reality, I have to admit, that some did.

I will refrain from telling some sad-sack war stories here.  But recently due to certain things happening in my life, I'm experiencing a renewal of my attempts to deal more positively with my 8 years worth of combat and combat related experiences. 

For years I dealt with things in the worst possible ways.  The driving beat of fear deep inside me was that it was all for naught.   I could not admit that.  It would make a horrific experience even more terrible.  But the simple truth is, we often wrap reality up in euphemistic language.  We say words like, duty, honor, glory and allow them to ease the sharpness of the truth so that it appears more acceptable.  It is not---ever.

I have come to the conclusion that your use of the word 'waste' was spot-on.  I knew this as I typed my first reply, but still wanted to protect myself and others somehow.

War is a waste---of everything.

It also reminds me of the hatred I have for HIV and how it is that same 'waste' of life.  Yes--some of us live through it.  Some of us live through it better than others, some worse.  But in the end, it has taken too many and laid to waste the lives, futures and gifts of far too many.

The above ramblings are those of a combat survivor and 20 survivor of HIV--you bet your ass I'm not all that well 'adjusted', so I apologize if my comments appear to be off-center or piss someone off.

 


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