Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day, 2017

The colombarium at Punchbowl National Cemetery.
With the benefit of hindsight, a sadly wishful sentence from four years ago:
On this Memorial Day, 2013, two of the longest-running wars in U.S history are winding down.
Very different philosophies and strategies by different Administrations have yielded the same bleak result.

In a wide-ranging essay, Victor Davis Hanson reflects on the cross-currents of Memorial Day's themes and emotions. Excerpts:
As today’s disputes over the legacy of the Civil War and the Confederacy suggest, it has never been enough just to lament the sacrifice and carnage of our wars, whether successful or failed. We feel the need to honor the war dead but also to make distinctions among them, elevating those who served noble causes while passing judgment on their foes.

The Western tradition of commemoration also includes a unique idea of individual moral exemption. As first articulated by Pericles, we overlook any defects of character of the war dead, attributing to one brief moment of ultimate sacrifice the power to wash away all prior moral faults.

A noble death serves, in the words of Pericles, as “a cloak to cover a man’s other imperfections; since the good action has blotted out the bad, and his merit as a citizen more than outweighed his demerits as an individual.”
It was once universally believed that to die for a noble cause redeemed one's entire life. On this Memorial Day in 2017 I suspect that belief is still commonly, though quietly, held by most fellow Americans.

No comments: