Originally called Decoration Day, this holiday originated during the Civil War, when citizens placed flowers of the graves of those killed in battle. After World War I, the holiday was observed to honor all American soldiers killed in battle, in all wars. In 1971, the date for observance was set at the last Monday in May, thus providing a festive holiday weekend to open the summer, even if this feeling contradicts astronomy.
As you might expect, for a holiday that was made official after it was observed at a grass roots level, several towns claimed to be its founder. The most credible case was made by Columbus, Mississippi, where a formal ceremony was held in 1866, for both Union and Confederate dead. Another claim was made by Waterloo, New York, also for 1866, even if this celebration was limited to Union soldiers.
Of course, the South lost the war, and thus lost this claim, since in 1966, a congressional proclamation named Waterloo as the birthplace of the holiday. Remember that 1966 was smack-dab in the salad days of the civil rights struggle, so awarding the South anything was out of the question. Younger readers of this column would probably be amazed at the elite media coverage during this time, that was in total denial of the significant racial discrimination in the North, and blamed virtually every evil in the country on uneducated Southern Whites. Apparently, the only thing Southern Whites did right those days was to vote Democratic.
But in 2004, one wonders how much longer formal observance of Memorial Day—beyond being another excuse for a long weekend—can continue. Consider the public’s lack of stomach for any kind of war these days, for any reason, along with the ultra-partisan politics (one side only, naturally).
Using the current logic of the anti-war types whereby “Iraq posed no threat to us, so why did we go to war?,” creates a difficult standard, indeed. However, I would argue that the real standard is “XXX poses no threat to us, but if the charge is led by a Democrat, all is forgiven; yet we simply won’t honor soldiers unless they are Democratic politicians.”
Our entry into World War I, and its more than 116,000 US deaths, was justified by nothing more than being pulled in by our allies. True, it was a Democrat (Wilson) who was the biggest cheerleader for us to do it, and that constituted a free pass even then. To make matters worse, Tommy Wilson blew the peace big time with his incredible mishandling of the Treaty of Versailles, and that mess thrust us into WWII. Good thing there are no more WWI vets to worry about.
A scant 24 years after we got into WWI, the sainted FDR led us into WWII. Here again, we were dragged in by our allies, along with the catalyst of Pearl Harbor. Pearl registered somewhat fewer deaths than 9/11, and, for what it’s worth, those killed were all military, while 9/11 was an attack on civilians. By the standards of WWII, 9/11 should have caused a ringing endorsement for nearly any bellicose excess—but we all know that it didn’t. A credible case can be made for us not entering WWII. Sitting on the sidelines watching Hitler and Stalin destroy each other, and emerging as the sole superpower, while saving 298,000 American lives would seem to be quite in keeping with current sentiments, after all.
Still, it is this war, more than any other in our history, that has achieved positively mythic proportions, far beyond the nonsense being taught about the War Between the States, and eclipsing the very conflict that founded our country. There is an explanation for this, pathetic though it may be: WWII has attained its status, fostered by the elite of its day, and maintained by our current gliterati, because Stalin was our ally. Not even the Cold War, and all the revelations about the plague of Communism can dampen their spirit. Add to this the notion that “there HAD to be a reason that nearly 300,000 Americans died,” along with the huge economic boom following WWII, and you have the stuff of legend.
For the Memorial Day faithful, though, the clock is ticking on the holiday. Within a few years, there won’t be any more WWII vets alive to stoke the flame. Right behind them are the Korean War vets, and their conflict was never as popular. After that, it’s a steep downhill ride with Vietnam and the Mideast wars, derided daily in the elite media.
Up until a few years ago, I didn’t think that the media could ever do worse than it did in January, 1968, when our devastating victory in the Tet Offensive was portrayed as a loss. Then, only few months after 9/11 did I observe what was once unthinkable: Partisanship gone absolutely mad, in which self-preservation against a vicious terrorist threat is trumped by a lustful hatred for one man, a love of abortion, and the searing blindness of well-nourished hubris.