A welcome to readers

As a resident of this planet for more than four fifths of a century, I have enjoyed both successes and disappointments in a wide variety of vocations, avocations, and life experiences. This blog satisfies my desire to share some thoughts and observations--trenchant and prosaic--with those who are searching for diversions which are interesting, poignant and occasionally funny. I also plan to share recommendations about good/great movies I've watched and books and articles which I've found particularly mind-opening, entertaining, instructive. In addition, I can't pass up the opportunity to reflect publicly on how I am experiencing the so-called Golden Years. Write anytime:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sentimental Journey: Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Days are always "downers" for me.  I can't help but see cemeteries filled with line on line of white crosses and stars of David, in America, Europe, and Asia.  This is the primary reason, of course, that my spirits are always down this day. I remember the millions of men, boys, young men and women, and civilians who have died in wars in which America participated, wars which most of those who fought (along with civilian bystanders) had little to do with starting. Some people were forced into the ranks; however, many of the participants fought because they believed in one cause or another.

In the beginning,  there were the Natives to America who saw their homeland being unjustly seized by unwanted white invaders; then there were  the white men securing the New World from Continental invasion and attacks by the native inhabitants. Shortly, there was the higher moral cause of wresting the Independence of the colonies from Great Britain. Then there was the Mid 19th century sectional war between States of the Union and States of the newly formed Confederacy, a particularly bloody war fought between American relatives and neighbors, between former citizens of the same country, a conflict fought for myriad reasons including abstract concepts of political power, governance, human and political rights, slavery, varied ways of life, money, land, sectional jealousy, and on and on.

Later there were the wars with Mexico and Spain for territorial aggrandizement and expansion (perhaps for ego satisfaction, chest thumping, and pure greed as well), two world wars, one promoted as a war to end all wars, and the next as a war against totalitarian tyranny. This last War also had intense ethical underpinnings when it was discovered that untold millions of Jews and other "undesirables" had simply been exterminated by the Nazis in Germany.

In both Germany and Japan we made war against civilians as well as military personnel, with the Allies firebombing great cities and leaving them in piles of rubble.  The conclusive act of this war was the deliberate devastation of every living and standing thing in two Japanese cities with immediate fatalities in the hundreds of thousands and many thousands more casualties occurring as the results of radiation burns and poisoning began to surface.

More recently, our wars, by comparison, have killed fewer Americans (Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and on and on), but have inflicted numerous injuries and death on military personnel as well as on civilian populations which happened to be in the way of bullets, explosives, and napalm. This is only a rough outline of America's war history and doesn't even begin to consider or total up the other deaths in the world, mostly unnecessary, which have been caused by the inhumanity, selfishness, greed, revenge-seeking, and power mongering tendencies of individuals, tribes, cults, religions, and nations.

Yes, Memorial Day, on the face of it is a "bummer" for me. I do remember with thanks the courage of millions of men and women who have fought and died over the years so that the rest of us can live relatively peaceful and comparatively comfortable (if not fulsome) lives. Their sacrifice was great, and I'd like to believe that we are living in such a way that we honor their ultimate gift to us. I mostly try, but think I regularly fall short.

Nothing I can think of can make this weekend in any way uplifting for me.  My memories of seeing the white crosses and Stars of David in the cemeteries at Arlington, Gettysburg, Vimy Ridge, Omaha Beach, Fort Knox and Fort Riley diminish and then totally disable and eviscerate my enthusiasm for celebration on this holiday in May.
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At the most personal and individual family level, Memorial Day is a day when I relive memories of family gatherings on Long Island Sound, the raucous gaiety engendered by beer and booze and good fellowship, the wise cracks and wisdom passed from elders to their progeny, the brats and dogs and macaroni salad, thin overcooked burgers, and succulent clams (swimming in butter) after being roasted on a cedar shingle fire nestled in the beach rocks; and there was the laughter and bragging and respect that gave me a feeling of comfort because I knew that I was accepted and loved--at least for the duration of the picnic. Today I also set aside time to remember those who are no longer among us who made those gatherings so special for me, for us all.

And I remember those in my Kentucky family, Jojnsons and Stones,  who gave so much to insure that I would eventually amount to something and make meaningful contributions to the lives of others, and do my little bit to create a world in which avarice and selfishness and lying were not the hallmarks of existence. I've tried, God knows, and am comfortable passing my unfinished tasks on to those I've raised to do them better than I have. Why? Because with William Faulkner, I finally believe "...that man will not merely endure. He will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”  I'd love to be around to see if this is true! If it is, I'll celebrate Memorial Day with great enthusiasm.

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