Tim Smith at The Baltimore Sun:
The original purpose of Memorial Day can get easily lost amid all the cookouts or, in these parts, trips to the beach for the unofficial start of the summer season. The origin of the holiday can get overlooked, too, since there have been so many wars since the one that led to the practice of commemorating those who died in service to the country.
It was in 1868 that the first Decoration Day ceremonies were held, honoring the dead of the Union Army in the Civil War. Over time, of course, the observance incorporated the dead of both sides and, renamed Memorial Day, encompassed all of this country’s fallen in subsequent wars.
I was thinking today of those Civil War roots of the holiday and of a song that was popular with Northern troops: “We’re Tenting Tonight On the Old Campground.” I’m fascinated by Walter Kittridge’s words from 1864 as much as the tune. This is a remarkably powerful, personal expression of that war’s toll — any war’s toll.
It seems doubly appropriate to recall it on this Memorial Day, when there are still conflicts and casualties. I’ve posted some of the lyrics here, followed by a recording of “Tenting Tonight” that effectively communicates the song’s sadly timeless message:
We’re tenting tonight on the old campground. Give us a song to cheer our weary hearts, a song of home, and friends we love so dear. Many are the hearts that are weary tonight, wishing for the war to cease. Many are the hearts looking for the right to see the dawn of peace …”
E.J. Dionne at WaPo:
Why is it that every Memorial Day, we note that a holiday set aside for honoring our war dead has become instead an occasion for beach-going, barbecues and baseball?
The problem arises because war-fighting has become less a common endeavor than a specialty engaged in by a relatively small subset of our population. True, some people slipped out of their obligations in the past, and military service was largely, though never exclusively, the preserve of men. The steady growth of opportunities for women in the armed forces is a positive development. I say this proudly as someone whose sister is a veteran of the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, as is her husband.
Can we ever return to a time when we pay proper homage to the service of our warriors, living and dead? Closing the divide that exists between military life and the rest of our society is the first step on that path. Achieving that end is the single best reason for ending the ban on gays in the military. This is not a special-interest demand. It is a powerful way of declaring that in a democracy, service should be seen as a task open to all patriots.
Our major wars — particularly the Civil War, which gave rise to Memorial Day, and World War II — were in some sense mass democratic experiences. They touched the entire country. The same cannot be said of our more recent conflicts.
Because it has been 65 years since we’ve seen anything like a mass mobilization, regular contact with our military is largely confined to the places where our men and women in uniform live. And, according to a 2007 Defense Department report, more than half of our home-based military personnel — 54.5 percent of them — are stationed in only six states: California, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Twelve states account for three-quarters of our service members. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a terrible principle when it comes to honoring those who protect us. But is there any doubt that it applies?
I really hate the annual ritual of writing columns about how people don’t behave properly on Memorial Day. People don’t get many vacation days in the greatest country on Earth, and sitting around pretending to be sad or watching Spielberg war porn doesn’t really honor those who served either. Not going to read the minds of those who served, willingly and enthusiastically or otherwise, but when after I die Atrios Memorial Day is declared, feel free to grill some burgers and have a few beers in my name. I’ll be honored.
Robert H. Scales at Politics Daily:
The heavy lifting in Iraq and Afghanistan is being done by a very small and increasingly isolated minority. We find that military service is fast becoming a family business. At least 100 sons and daughters of general officers are in harm’s way as we speak. The level of relative sacrifice is far greater today than it was in my generation. It’s not unusual to find a soldier or Marine who is now in double-digit deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps we don’t sense the difference between their lives and ours, but increasingly they do. We don’t hear much from them publicly because, unlike my generation of draftees, they are professionals and tend to keep their own counsel. But resentment is there, just under the surface. Unlike my generation, soldiers are plugged into the outside world through the Internet. You can often find a young soldier in the remotest and most inhospitable place blogging and tweeting and watching his countrymen with a wry cynicism.
Soldiers often ask why the media gave them so much attention before the surge when things were going badly in Iraq and so little attention now when things are going well. They wonder how so many political and media pundits know so much about a soldier’s business, and yet lately, soldiers see so few of them near their foxholes. The Internet is a two-edged sword. In Vietnam, we only heard from home infrequently, by letter. Today a soldier is likely to go off on patrol after getting an earful about his loved one’s problems with bill collectors, teachers or, increasingly, family counselors.
Memorial Day should be about memories, to be sure. But it should also be about remembrances of those who are serving us so selflessly now. We must never allow this precious and tiny piece of Sparta to become permanently detached from America’s Babylon. Next time you’re in an airport, spend a second to shake a soldier’s hand. Commit to rekindling that sense of good will toward our men and women in uniform you felt just after 9/11. The war for us is now background noise. But believe me, war is very real and increasingly dangerous for those whom we charge to fight it.
Michelle Oddis at Human Events:
–> At a time when President Obama’s relationship with the military is already on shaky ground, his decision to take a vacation with his family in Chicago rather than pay his Memorial Day respects at Arlington National Cemetery further proves his apathy toward our armed forces, according to some veterans.
“The President seems to demonstrate almost weekly just how, at least to me, little he cares about this country and our history and our heritage,” retired Marine Lt. Col. Orson Swindle told HUMAN EVENTS.
“He seems almost to resent it, which is the most mind-boggling thing in the world, because without a country like America Barack Obama could not be President. He seems to dislike our institutions… and that’s a sad, sad thing,” said Swindle, a decorated Vietnam prisoner of war and Sen. John McCain’s cellmate in Hanoi.
David Corn at Politics Daily:
There’s a hole in the bottom of the ocean. Unemployment is still near 10 percent. There are two wars underway. And what are conservative pundits fretting about? That this year President Obama won’t be laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.
The liberal watchdog outfit, Media Matters, has been keeping track of this latest right-wing meme:– Glenn Beck says, “Obama is skipping out on a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington Cemetery because he’ll be in Chicago on vacation. I’m sorry, I don’t ever, ever question the president’s vacation. I didn’t under Bush, I didn’t under Clinton, I don’t under Obama. . . . I have no problem with the man taking a vacation. But I am sick and tired — sick and tired — of people believing the lie that this administration has respect for the police or has respect for the soldiers of our country. I’m tired of it.”
– Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger and CNN contributor, tweeted, “Obama skipping the Tomb of the Unknowns this weekend for Chicago is offensive. Chicago can wait. The Commander-in-Chief has a job to do.”
– Noting that Vice President Joe Biden will assume the wreath-laying duties this year, Doug Powers, a guest blogger for conservative Michelle Malkin, grouses, “President Obama went to Arlington Cemetery to lay the wreath last year, but this year Obama’s handing the wreath to [Biden] and heading off to the more welcoming political climes of Chicago. . . . Obama will however make it back to Washington in time to honor Paul McCartney next week. Boy, I’m starting to think that West Point speech [Obama gave this past weekend] wasn’t from the heart.”
You’d think these folks would have better things to gripe about. And Obama is not retreating on Memorial Day. (What president would?) Instead of visiting Arlington cemetery, Obama and the first lady will participate in a Memorial Day ceremony at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill., about 50 miles south of Chicago. Moreover, not every president has spent Memorial Day at Arlington. In 1983, President Reagan was at a summit meeting, and the deputy secretary of defense — not even the veep! — placed the wreath. Nine years later, President George H.W. Bush passed off the wreath to Vice President Dan Quayle (who had used family connections to get a slot in the National Guard during the days of the Vietnam War draft). And in 2007, Vice President Dick Cheney took on the wreath mission, while President George W. Bush was in Texas, perhaps clearing brush.
This wreath scuffle is yet another silly episode in the right’s never-ending campaign to persuade Americans that Obama doesn’t care about U.S. troops and is weak on national security. It shows how unserious these bloviators can be. Obama is in the middle of sending an additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan and has boosted the number of drone attacks aimed at al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Still, conservative wingnuts insist on questioning his commitment to the defense of this nation. (I’m skeptical of the Afghanistan surge, but it certainly is a commitment to the war — for at least the time being.)
Some conservatives have criticized President Obama because he won’t pay homage to America’s fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery today. Instead, he will be at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Illinois. This is a silly controversy and has the potential to make the complainers look petty. Thousands of American veterans are buried at national cemeteries that aren’t as famous as the one at Arlington. These heroes are worthy of presidential visits on Memorial Day, too.