As I sit here at the comfort of my desk on a rainy morning I’m reflecting on the
approaching Memorial Day holiday and its meaning in my life. The
quiet rain caused me to slow down long enough to realize that this traditional
American holiday has again sneaked up on us after a pretty easy winter and
spring that has endured about as long as the blink of an eye.
Let me preface my comments by saying that I don’t believe in war and I’m profoundly turned off by the excesses in nationalism that leads to it, costing millions of lives.
That said, I’ve decided to write about the holiday for the second year in a row. I also wanted to include some comments about my father, a World War II veteran.
The first thing I realized was that I needed to make sure I had the facts right about my father’s military record so I could write about it with the accuracy it deserves. This morning my mother said the exact information is at the cemetery. So I took Mom over to plant two geraniums at my father’s headstone this morning with my clipboard and pencil to jot down the information from an engraved flat bronze memorial in front of his grave.
My father was a World War II Veteran and POW. The flat memorial reads “NJ 1st Lt 52 FTR Intcp Wing AF WWII BSM AM 2 OLC PH. Translating it to the best of my ability, it means First Lieutenant from New Jersey 52nd Fighter Interceptor Wing of the Air Force in World War II, Bronze Star Medal, Achievement Medal two times, Oak Leaf Cluster and Purple Heart. The Oak Leaf Cluster was a small oak leaf issued to indicate a second award of a previous medal, such as the Purple Heart or the Bronze Star Medal.
He was shot down while flying a mission over France and remained a prisoner of war until June 6, 1944, his 21st birthday and otherwise known as D-Day, when Allied Forces invaded Normandy. Dwight D. Eisenhower Commanded 156,000 Allied Forces in this decisive victory against Gerd Von Rundstedt’s 10,000 Nazi forces. I’m truly humbled by my father’s legacy and I can only hope that some of
that courage has been passed on to me.
That day in June when the Western Allied Forces liberated mainland Europe from Nazi occupation during World War II was a turning point in freedom for the entire
world. The Third Reich, also Nazi Germany, is the common name for Germany when it was a totalitarian state ruled by Adolf Hitler. Racism, especially anti-Semitism, was rampant in Nazi Germany. The Gestapo destroyed the liberal, socialist, and communist opposition killed millions of
The number of concentration camps had quadrupled as slave-laborers from across Europe, Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, the mentally ill and others were thrown in prison. This assault on humanity culminated the mass genocide of Jews and other minorities in The Holocaust.
Germany was eventually overtaken in 1945 by the Soviets from the east and the Allies from the west. The victorious Allies initiated a policy of re-democratizing Germany and other parts of Europe, putting the Nazi leadership on trial for war crimes. These became known as the Nuremberg Trials.
The particularly murderous and enslaving strain of fascism that Nazism represented has given good reason for Americans to this day to remain wary of uniform, centralized power in government. This totalitarian monolith would not tolerate even a hint of diversity in any segment of German (or Continental) society. Every command would be dictated by the Führer und Reichskanzler from a central post. Dissension would be crushed by the Gestapo within Germany and by the Luftwaffe beyond Hitler’s ever expanding reach until his final defeat.
On Memorial Day it’s important to remember that we honor the veterans of other wars as well. They include the War in Afghanistan, War in Iraq, Gulf War, War of 1812. Vietnam War, Korean War, World War I and the American Civil War.
Observance of Memorial Day originated after the Civil War to commemorate the allen Union soldiers of the Civil War. Over 600,000 Americans were died. Another 400,000 were wounded. And this, over opposing views on the preservation of one uniform law of the land. Contrast this to Americans’ alternative kneejerk condemnation of centralized government in the long wake of
But the Civil War best exemplifies why a blanket condemnation of a unified but consistent federal law of the land can be just as shortsighted as hypnotic praise for the political philosophy of Mein Kampf. Fast forward to Arizona’s “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” (SB 1070), currently awaiting adjudication in the United States Supreme Court and we have another case of state v. federal law, although on a far, far less egregious scale than that prior to
In addition to being two contests in American federalism, these two divergent scenarios also portray a struggle of civil rights in vivid blood red detail, one far more than the other. So, have we progressed in our “memorialization” of a consistency in American law? This struggle in states’ rights v. federal supremacy, (in part rooted in the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Supremacy Clause) is still evolving 147 years after Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865 at the McLean House in the village of Appomattox Court
As our troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan they’re often greeted with joblessness, homelessness and post-traumatic syndrome. I think it’s safe to say that their brethren who fought before them would ask above all else that we treat today’s survivors of war with the support services they deserve.
A 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps that includes all eligible veterans returning home with a promise of employment would be a huge step forward on this Memorial Day
The Oxford Dictionary defines the term nation as “a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.” Yet, on Memorial Day 2012 our “nation” remains profoundly divided.
We continue to suffer through an assault on the Voting Rights Act; the officially sanctioned racism that ended at Appomattox Court House has now morphed
into new insidious shapes and sizes despite the election of the first African American to the White House; and despite what may be the most serious threat to
our democracy, the worst income inequality in decades, an insurmountable chasm of public opinion and sentiment exists about whether it even matters that one
in four American children has slipped into poverty. While unemployment remains persistently above 8 percent, members of Congress insist on focusing on legislation to limit women’s health rights rather than work to create jobs.
On this Memorial Day, let’s ask ourselves why our veterans fought and died in so many devastating wars. Did the Allied Forces, many of them our own parents,
grandparents and other family members led by General Eisenhower to defeat the
westward march of a Nazi dictator, be gratified as we sit back watching at the same time that very American democracy is painfully replaced by the one percent representing a ruling plutocracy? Did 600,000 Americans, who died over 19th century American slavery and a mistaken argument of states’ rights, do so only to see the 44th President of the United States witness an attack on his citizenship, loyalty to democratic ideals and sense of humanity because of the same race that enflamed the entire nation in the deadliest war in its history a century and a half ago? I don’t think so. Not on our watch.
When all is said and done, the best gift we can give to those we remember on Monday is to end war and the injustices that lead to it. When we can, there will be no more names to add to Monday’s list. But unless we can end the deep divide in sentiment currently festering in this country and abroad, that’s one Monday that will never come.