In Memoriam: A Memorial Day Tribute

Here in the United States we just celebrated Memorial Day weekend. (Memorial Day is always the last Monday in May.) This is a holiday to recognize those who have died in the service of the U.S. military.

This brings to mind so many thoughts and images–some heroic, some intriguing, some unsettling. In the U.S.’s rich history of military conflicts, one can picture battles on sea, land, and air stretching our country’s existence. From swords to drone missiles; from battlefields to urban warfare.

Along with the weaponry and settings were the social eras in which these wars took place. 75 years ago, my 17-year-old self may have tried to sign up early for the draft to fight in WWII. 17-year-old Brandon in the late nineties? Well, I had little interest in going off to boot camp–despite my grandfather and great-uncles all being veterans.

What happened?

Did patriotism decline in the country? Did war (and/or the reasons for partaking) change? Or was it simply the end of the draft?

When I reflect on Memorial Day–and having now listened to a handful of war-related history podcasts–I appreciate more than ever the degree of suffering and hardships in warfare. I put myself into the trenches of WWI or a battlefield from the U.S. Civil War. To kill or be killed. To see so many on the wrong end of that exchange. To perhaps be on that wrong end myself. To have no choice in the matter.

One particularly troubling account I heard was from WWI. Germany (and I believe most involved nations at the time) mandated their young men all join their army. Desertion meant death–even if fleeing an onslaught. So when it was your troop’s turn to charge, you all climbed out of your trench and faced the rain of gunfire. One British soldier, writing to his wife one night from his trench, knew he’d be charging the next day. He poured his heart onto the page, saying he may never have the chance to write again. He was correct.

As an American, I’m grateful I had the choice at 18 whether or not to participate in the military. Today, I’m grateful wars aren’t the “meat-grinding,” body-counting sagas they used to be.

But this is just my American perspective. Some parts of the world haven’t seen war in decades or longer. Some places suffer perpetual conflict. Meanwhile, the U.S. spends way, way. way more money on military than any other country. With all this, I’d be curious to hear from non-Americans.

People from other countries, what are your thoughts, opinions, and perspectives on military activity and warfare? Does your country have a “Memorial Day” of your own? Or, if you’re an American from another region of the country than myself (Minnesota) or are of a different generation, I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

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