What does this day really mean? I feel obliged to think about this question at least a little bit during my day off from work. It’s a solemn occasion. We’re talking about dead people. But for what purpose are we remembering them?
My immediate thought is that this is not a patriotic holiday. We are not celebrating anything. Rather, I think we are mourning the human cost of all of the decisions our country’s leaders have made, regardless of whether those decisions were right or wrong. The stakes have always been high, and they continue to be high. If we take our responsibility as a nation lightly, then we dishonor both those who died on its behalf in the past and those who will inevitably die on its behalf in the future. Mindless nationalism is the exact opposite of what this holiday should produce.
This is a day of remembrance, but how are we to remember those who died? Should we think of them as heroes, patriots, victims? I’m not sure. I don’t think that it’s healthy to romanticize the military, and referring to all of those who died at war as heroes seems to be a way of doing just that. And I’m sure many who died went because they had to, not because they loved their country. Thinking of them as victims of forces beyond their control, though, seems to do them dishonor.
I guess that they are all three of these things and none of them. Some were heroes, some were patriots, some were victims. The point is that they died, and that, in some sense, we are responsible. This isn’t to say that we bear guilt for the deaths of people who were long gone before we were even born. Rather, what I mean to say is that the tremendous cost paid by those who have come before us is a warning to us that nothing comes cheap. If we do not heed this warning, then we dishonor those who died to demonstrate it.