Curtain Raiser

Forgetting to Remember, Colltalers

With the staggering amount of money and hours we as a society spent on entertainment, of the escapist ‘dropping it out and letting it all go’ kind, it seems an anachronism to call it Memorial Day. For most Americans, today’s just the beginning of summer, period.
But even as the bulk of the population now has hardly any personal ties to the reason why we honor Veterans at all, the day itself still fulfills a relevant purpose, all political grandstanding notwithstanding. It’s a necessary reminder of what we tend to forget.
Throughout the day, judging by the parades, the crowded military cemeteries, even the cynical speeches, there may be a hint that we’re celebrating those killed by the ever increasing conflicts the U.S. has been involved in. Without it, not even such a day would exist.
As for remembering why they were killed in the first place, it’s been a while since that’s become a considerable muddier issue. If wars ever made sense, they’re incomprehensible now without weighting in their business ‘angle,’ and downgrading their moral motivations.
Demographics is no longer a factor, as the U.S. armed forces don’t represent a meaningful swath of the population, in sheer numbers, anymore. That’s probably why it’s so easy these days for Americans to forget those fighting on their behalf, in faraway lands, or that Vets are among a growing contingent of mentally unstable, homeless men and women left to rot on the streets by a failed system.
No wonder there are very few business leaders, politicians, even elected officials, who are ex-combatants from contemporary wars, in positions of power. Most Vets, when not struggling themselves, or even if they are, are fighting from the outside, for rights and general compassion for their fellow comrades

from the part of the rest of Americans, whose thoughts today are mostly on BBQs and time off.
With the economy shifting back to an era supposedly buried a century ago – where workers had no vacation time to plan for, no 40-hour workweek, and jobs came with no benefits – most can count on their fingers the number of days they can afford to take off. Not many. So it’s your guess what those luck enough to have today off are thinking about right now. And who can blame them?
The official opening of beach season in the U.S. won’t disappoint anyone; they’ll be crowded by a deserving horde. And so will parks and block fairs, for those who can’t afford it otherwise. There are certainly a few superhero flicks to spend an obscene amount on too.
War, like the one being fought in Afghanistan by future Vets, only occasionally makes it to an above-the-fold newspaper headline. Even Daesh, the murderous militia created by the disastrous Iraq invasion, struggle to come up with ever more shock-value acts to attract the world’s attention. And President Obama’s honorable, if somewhat short on purpose, visit to Hiroshima also failed to remind most Americans of WWII, whose dwindling Vets deserve to be honored by more than a holiday upstaged by a season’s symbolic change.
So, since we’re constantly having to be reminded to remember, we can surely use a day to meditate on what it means to live in a country whose presidential candidates have such cavalier war views. After all, neither them nor anyone of their kin may ever have to face combat.
In fact, war does not figure in anyone’s platform, among those running to the White House. Which is disturbing given the $600-plus proposed Pentagon budget one of them will have to deal with, and none has promised to challenge it. Which it also figures.
Out of the left field, comes this idea that people forgetting about things, about their past, about history, has something to do with rise of the extreme right in the world. It’s a crazy enough idea to leave you to ponder on today, since we may eventually forget all about.
Some link this thirst for a strongman that we’re witnessing, with growing despair, in Europe, Latin America, Africa, as well as steady support for the ones they’ve already got, like in Russia, Turkey, and now, sadly, in the U.S. presidential campaign, with that general lack of memory. And we’re not going to blame it all on the entertainment industry, as callous as their business practices may be.
It may be more related to a disconnect with the past, with more people being alive today, who have spent all their lives in the cushioned accommodation of democracy, even of the flawed kind, that simply can’t imagine how much blood was spilled on its buildup.
For instance, most Americans can’t compare the tactics used by white supremacists, who suddenly see a U.S. presidential contender they can rally behind, with the Brown Shirts in Italy, or Nazism in Germany, during the 1930s, because they either haven’t been taught in depth about Mussolini and Hitler, or even spent enough hours at school to get to the facts behind the pop icons they’ve both become.
In Austria, Brazil, Peru, or Gambia, the largest contingent of voters may be the most critically misinformed of the electorate, but they’ve done enough to drive their countries back to a road very well known to many we’re honoring today. Who are old and going.
Memories that we create are vital to our mental health, thus the vital need to take time off, and be merry, and simply enjoy oneself almost mindlessly. But nations can’t afford to lose their memories. And that depends on relaying them to new generations.
With so much pressure into education to be a means to a profitable profession, and so little invested in what learning from a collective experience means to our civilization, much has been left out. Not the least of it, why critical education is so essential to a community, an ethnicity, an entire country. Thus we most definitely need more more than a day per year to remember what we are all about.
This Memorial Day, by all means, let’s honor those who took bullets on our behalf, regardless of why they were sent to do it in the first place. But let’s not forget to also remember why it’s crucial to learn how we all got here. It means more than to follow a series saga till its finale. For a country is always in season, and as a work in progress, it relies upon what we remember of it. Have a great summer. WC

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