Monday, May 31, 2010

In memoriam: to those "who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes"

I hope everyone enjoyed the long weekend. It was a sweltering one here in DC, and I was happy to see so many people braving the weather at Arlington this afternoon.

Others have written about why this day is so important, but one moment today helped to remind me: a family in church clothes in the field up behind the Tomb of the Unknowns, kneeling to pray before a gravestone that read "1974-2009, OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM." This was one family among four thousand. And 58,000 from Vietnam, and 53,000 from Korea, and 400,000-odd from WWII, and 135,000 from WWI.

I'm skeptical of the blanket assertion that "these men died for freedom," but I'll tell you one thing that's certainly true: these men died that other men wouldn't, and that's a hell of a thing.

So I'll leave you with the words of the orders issued on the very first Memorial Day, shamelessly copied in full from Small Wars Journal:

HEADQUARTERS GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC

General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If our eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

By order of

JOHN A. LOGAN,
Commander-in-Chief

N.P. CHIPMAN,
Adjutant General

Official:
WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.

6 comments:

  1. Indeed, Gulliver.

    (Perhaps this is not the correct thread to bring up the following but on language:

    "I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."

    Can you imagine a contemporary institutional document written in such straightforward, and yet evocative, language? T. Greer, a sometime commenter here, has a nice post on previous legislative bills - important bills at that - and their relative brevity and clear language as compared to today's legislative writing.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Others have written about why this day is so important, but one moment today helped to remind me: a family in church clothes in the field up behind the Tomb of the Unknowns, kneeling to pray before a gravestone that read "1974-2009, OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM." "

    :(

    ReplyDelete
  3. More food for thought:

    http://www.newsweek.com/2010/05/30/the-price-of-forgetting.html

    ReplyDelete
  4. Glad to see Meacham keeping up the tradition of peddling this bullshit line:

    The military has become another country, a place where a disproportionate number of disadvantaged young Americans go to find their way.

    Here's a much better Memorial Day piece (this from Andrew Bacevich).

    ReplyDelete
  5. TCM had two films on over the weekend: The Best Years of Our Lives and Pride of the Marines.

    How is it that classic Hollywood, the Golden Years, made films of such enduring poignancy? Sentimental and old-fashioned, and yet, more nuanced than many of the bombastic or overly didactic films of today? What quality of vitality is missing?

    (I love those old films. They don't shy away from hard truths - they do a better job of showing "patriotic" blowhards than contemporary films - but there is a sweetness there, and a kind of gentle understanding of human frailty (and love and strength and bravery) that is missing from contemporary fare. Oh, I don't what I am trying to say.)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Or you could've watched -- no joke -- GEN Petraeus introduce war porn flicks from the 1960s on AMC.

    SNLII

    ReplyDelete