A few minutes ago, I was lying in bed, wide awake, listening to the rain patter on my roof, while my wife slept soundly beside me. I lay there wondering to myself why I did not post some sort of Memorial Day tribute on my blog. I know my blogging has been rather sparse as of late - I guess I have been on the "quality, not quantity" kick - but on Memorial Day, I at least always post a photo of military headstones at a U.S. war cemetery or of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or some other meaningful visual. But not today.
Lying there in bed, I came to the conclusion that my view of Memorial Day has changed. All my life, I thought and was taught that Memorial Day was the day of the year that we are to be thankful to those members of our military who have given the ultimate sacrifice in order to keep us free; to ensure the security of this country. Instead of thankfulness, I instead feel sorrow; sorrow that these men and women died for this country. Because, more and more, I keep asking myself: What country?
In the 20th century alone, the United States lost approximately 650,000 American servicemen killed fighting in the Philippines, the Caribbean, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East. If those war dead could see what our country has become, do you think even half of those men and women would say, "Boy, I'm sure glad I died so the United States could become the country it is today!"
Are we even close to being the same United States of America for which these men and women fought and died? Look at the level of government dependency, debauchery, immorality, illegitimacy, slovenliness, apathy, cynicism, timidity, and learned helplessness that has overtaken this nation. Look at the caliber of elected and unelected officials who populate our federal, state, and local governments. As morally and fiscally corrupt as these people might be, never forget that it was that population I just described that put those elected officials in place, and continue to vote to keep them there - all in an effort to use the coercive force of government to transfer the wealth of the rapidly-shrinking productive sector of society to the rapidly-expanding non-productive and parasitical sector of society.
I teach 8th grade at a school populated by students who have almost no clue about the historical and cultural background of the United States, and most of them couldn't care less. They have no interest in learning about the shared cultural markers that make this country what it is (or was, actually). Markers such as MEMORIAL DAY, Independence Day (beyond the fun of shooting off fireworks), the ideas of liberty and individual freedom, and limited government as taught in the Declaration of Independence. Many of these students are first-generation citizens of the United States whose loyalties still lie with their parents' home country, and they have no interest in breaking those cultural and emotional ties with their home country. Or these students have a family heritage in America that goes back many more generations than my own, but fail to identify themselves as being part of the American family. They see the United States as nothing more than a meaningless and ahistorical chunk of land from which to extract a living - often at the hands of Joe and Jane Taxpayer. Otherwise, these students and their families see the United States as an oppressive, racist, hateful country that does not deserve their loyalty... even though they continue to live here and are happy to cash those welfare checks and eat that school-provided, taxpayer-subsidized breakfast and lunch.
When I have voiced my concerns about the current generation I am attempting to teach, this is when I am often told that my students are only in the 8th grade, and they simply haven't been taught these things yet, and it is up to me to teach them. Well guess what folks: 8th graders used to already know these things! They were taught them from birth by their parents long before they passed through a schoolhouse door. Again, our country used to have a common shared culture, that was uniquely American, where practically everyone knew the same songs, poems, presidents, war heroes, and symbols. Not so much anymore. Not only are these symbols often not known, but when they are, they are often dismissed as being jingoistic, imperialistic, fascist, right-wing... you know the deal. It's not an uncommon situation in many demographics. If you have time, watch the results of this man-on-the-street interview of people on the question of the purpose of Memorial Day.
This is also when I am often told that not everyone is that way; there are still places in America where there is still love of country, and patriotism, and Mom and apple pie. Yes, there are still "places." Not the entire country - just places. Demography is destiny, and for the last few decades, the people who remember and participated in the Old United States are themselves getting old and dying off. Replacing them are the current generation personified by the students I teach. The places where the Old United States still exists will continue to dwindle as the demographics of our population change over the next few decades.
When you snip a bunch of flowers that are growing strong and pure in the ground and put them in a vase, the flowers continue to look strong and pure... for awhile. But as the days pass, no matter what kind of water or powdered fertilizer you use to stop the inevitable, the flowers begin to wilt, and then die. Finally, the fetid water in the vase is dumped down the sink, and the flowers are thrown in the garbage. The charade of the snipped flowers looking fresh in the vase worked for a little while, but they were doomed the moment they were snipped and removed from their roots which had been firmly planted in the soil.
If you don't yet see where I am going with this, the United States is the bouquet of flowers that has been in the vase for quite some time now. Through deficit spending, and overtaxing, and living off the wealth and infrastructure created decades ago, we have been keeping up the charade of prosperity and stability all this time, but the stems and leaves are beginning to wilt, and the petals are beginning to fall, and the water is beginning to develop a rather pungent odor.
And unfortunately, through it all, the 650,000 American servicemen who were killed in the 20th Century, along with the approximately 6,500 killed in the 21st Century, and the 810,000-or-so who were killed in the 18th and 19th centuries were unable to stop the decay that has brought us to the irresistible and seemingly unstoppable downward slide in which we find ourselves today. When I talk to my own children about the United States, instead of telling them about how great the country is, more often than not, I find myself telling them about how great the country used to be.
So as we observed Memorial Day 2013 (that is, actually observed it, and not just had a barbecue and went shopping), I couldn't stop asking myself if it has all been worth it? For what have these servicemen died? Should I give thanks for their sacrifice, or feel sorry for the seeming waste of their sacrifice? I don't get the chance to talk to the dwindling number of surviving World War II veterans, but I wonder what the consensus would be from them, and also veterans of Korea, Vietnam, and even today's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: Knowing what you know today; seeing what you see in our country today; was it all worth it?
Dare I ask, was it all in vain?