Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day muse

It has been a long time since a holiday meant a day off of work for me. We have been living on the boat for a few years now, where “every day is a holiday and every meal a banquet”. (Well, that's the idea anyway.) As a pilot in the corporate / charter / airline world holidays usually meant more work, not less. The Powers that Be and the People Off Work wanted to go places. But today I am one of those People Off Work, enjoying an easy day of staying in the air conditioning, doing a little reading, doing a little writing.

Much of the reading is about the meaning behind Memorial Day. Not just barbecues and car races, picnics and parties, but graves and battles, wounded and maimed, people who served and now struggle to get by. There are also the themes of “true Americans” and “real patriots.” I know some of those people. One of my brothers, my dad, and my farther-in-law served in the military. I have friends who served in 'Nam, others who did various tours in the endless conflicts of the Middle East. Their patriotism, the truth of their Americanism, is beyond reproach or question. They deserve this day and much, much more. But apparently, at least according to some of the stuff being written today, I am not much of an American, not much of a patriot.

The claim that “All men are created equal” was a really good start...for a document written 240 years ago. Now “all men” needs to include all women, and every skin tone. Slavery in the US officially ended in 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment, or in 1863 if you count the Emancipation Proclamation. Women didn't win the right to vote until 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Women still don't have the claim to equal pay for equal work. America made real progress toward being a “more perfect Union” with these Amendments. Today though, some claim that making it as difficult as possible for some Americans to cast a vote is true patriotism, and that women don't deserve equal pay for equal work.

I am not one of those patriots.

North America, the bit of the planet that Americans claim as their own, is a breathtakingly beautiful place. I have ridden through it, flown over it, and sailed around parts of it. This land holds the resources necessary to build a first world society, to take part in a quality of life few in the history of humankind have known. I love this land, from its deserts to the towering peaks of the Rockies, the endless plains of the mid-west, to the forest covered and ancient mountains of the east. Today some claim that ruthlessly exploiting the land for profit is true patriotism, that any concession to the environment is “un-American”, and that public space is wasted space.

I am not one of those patriots.

It must be admitted that we are a violent people. And, as is the habit of all humans, we project that violent tendency. Everyone in the world is either an enemy, a potential enemy, or allied to an enemy. We fund the world's largest and most aggressive military, are constantly at war, and blithely threaten the entire planet with a nuclear arsenal that holds the potential for ending human civilization. Fear has become the mark of the true patriot, bellicose, belligerent, kicking ass and taking names. The widows and orphans of all that ass kicking and name taking are also the enemy of the true patriot, people to be loathed and left to suffer. They must be banned; they, and everyone who looks like them. They must be herded into camps, shipped off our shores, families broken up, stripped of all human dignity. The patriot is "building a wall" and “protecting America.”

I am not one of those patriots.

“True Patriots” it is said, “protect themselves and their loved ones”. Any attempt to ensure that those protecting themselves by carrying guns into stores, schools, and churches have even basic weapons training, and are mentally capable of deploying those weapons responsibly in the midst of the most dire of circumstances, is denounced as “un-American.” It is claimed that a true patriot accepts the constant threat of a lunatic with a gun as the price of “living free.”

I am not one of those patriots.

At this moment those claiming to be true patriots loathe education, heap scorn on teachers and scientists, cling to religious fundamentalism, and expect a god to bless their racism, sexism, violence.

I am not one of those patriots. (Nor, just for the sake of argument, would I worship such a god.)

I have no idea what will become of this nation, what patriotism or even “being an American” will mean two or three generations down the line. There is no assurance that the nation for which those who served and sacrificed, will turn out to be one worthy of the service or the sacrifice. This Memorial Day is filled with those claiming to honor the fallen, claiming to be Real Americans, claiming to be true patriots.

I wonder how many of the fallen would agree.


Robert Sapp said...

With all due respect, the friends you mention do not deserve "this day," unless they gave their lives in service to this country. Memorial Day is not Veteran's Day or Flag Day or Armed Forces Day or VE/VJ day (which I'm old enough to remember when that was still a "thing" that got printed on the calendar). It's a day that began as a debt of gratitude to the Union dead of the Civil War, and has since become a day for remembrance of those who surrendered "all their tomorrows" when called to service by their country (FYI that even eventually included Confederate war casualties, as Congress formally recognized them as military veterans via an official act). Perhaps the 4th of July would be a better time for you to ruminate on things liberals loath about America. For now, I believe a simple "thank you for your sacrifice" to the families of the fallen would suffice, regardless of whether you embrace, empathize with, or even understand the beliefs they held that motivated them to serve. With warm regards...

Rhonda & Robert
S/V Eagle Too
Pensacola, FL

TJ said...

Robert my friend, I'm afraid you lost me a little bit on that one. Of course "Memorial Day" is mostly about the dead; I'm pretty sure that's why it references "Memorial". But I can't imagine the dead would be offended by also remembering their brothers and sisters in arms who managed to survive.

And about us liberals loathing things about America...after all this time debating with me and you still don't know anything about liberals? I loath sexism, racism, power politics, and stupid and senseless wars. I loath the degrading of teachers, the worship of greed and commerce, the abandoning of education, and the religious fundamentalism that threatens the future for all of us.

But none of that makes me a liberal. I hope it does make me an American. But if doesn't, if America has abandon any pretense of striving for civil liberty, a functioning democracy, peace, and equal rights for all human beings...then perhaps I'm not much of American. But if America has abandoned those ideals, then it isn't much of a country any more either.

Though this is a dark moment in the nation's history, there is a pretty good chance a new day is about to dawn. At the moment of course, there doesn't appear to be a lot of evidence that America is clinging too, or striving for, those things which made us a great nation. There is certainly no reason to think that reviving racism, sexism, religious fundamentalism, or making an open call for violence in the streets, is going to make us a great nation again. Nor will I try to dodge the reality. If the fact becomes that I can either chose to be a thinking, caring, compassionate, open minded human being with a care for the future OR I can be a patriotic American...I'll chose the former.

It hasn't come to that nor, as I said, do I think it inevitable. There are a whole lot of young Americans, Americans of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, Americans who don't worship guns, Americans who don't fear gay people, or Muslims, or put much stock in any particular god. They are not looking for the America that was, the America of Jim Crow, the "little woman", or the gilded age. They look for an America that can be.

It may even be said that the hue and cry being raised by the racists, the sexists, the fundamentalists, the anti-education crowd, those who fear pretty much everyone and everything, and fear the future most of all, is a good sign. It is evidence that they know their days are numbered, that this is their last stand, and that soon they will be dumped on the trash heap that history holds for bad ideas.

Memorial Day is a good day to think about what we can be, what we can do with the sacrifice others have made for us. It is a good day to honor the fallen by calling out those who would betray the future the country could have. It is a good day to say true Americans are not racists, are not sexists, don't love war and violence. It is a good day to say others have died to give us the chance to be a better people, to seek a better future; to embrace knowledge and compassion, learning and understanding, fairness, thoughtfulness, and wisdom. It is a good day to say "This is how we honor them."

I'm glad to see that your travels are going well. Role reversal, you are on the move and we are sitting still, fixing the boat and trying to make things work so we can join you "out there". It is always good to hear from you. Fair winds and following seas...

Josh said...

"Fear has become the mark of the true patriot"... I like that line a lot... Fits right in with where my thoughts have turned during the inevitable aftermath of Orlando.

Alex Rooker said...

Marine General Smedley Butler is worth a Google search.
Having earned Two Congressional Medals of Honor, he wrote a book about why his troops went in harms way.
Yet, there seems to not be a memorial for the man.
I honor our servicemen , living and dead, by introducing Smedley Butler to as many folks as polite conversation will allow.
His book reveals a name which ties to those who lead us into the Middle East conflicts.

Kindle has it for about $4.