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Remembering Remembrance Day

Today is Memorial Day, one of the most confusing holidays in America. Pretty much everywhere else in the world, Remembrance Day is celebrated on November 11.

I have talked at length about Veterans Day (in a webinar, in my book, in another blog)…but Memorial Day is even more confusing.

At least on Veterans Day, we are celebrating ALL veterans (whether they have passed away peacefully, died in combat, or are still living and/or still serving). But for some reason, we tend to do the exact same thing on Memorial Day.

Traditionally, Memorial Day was “celebrated” by (cleaning and) decorating the graves of fallen soldiers. But maybe we no longer know where to find these graves. Maybe we no longer know what the holiday is about. Maybe we have succumbed to the intentional consumerism of three-day weekends designed for us by the generation who came before. Maybe we only know how to honor living people and don't understand why we should honor the dead.

While everyone is out at barbecues, at the beach, listening to big band music or honoring veterans, I hope we realize that we don’t honor or remember soldiers the same way the rest of the Allies do and have done since the end of World War I.

For starters, where are our poppies? Why don’t we sell and wear poppies for Memorial Day in The United States? And…does anyone know…Do we sell and wear poppies on Veterans Day?

We like to say Freedom isn’t Free. How are we feeling about war these days? Have we forgotten that every life sacrificed was someone’s son (or daughter)? Perhaps someone’s parent? Or sibling?

We cannot truly comprehend the number of casualties from a single battle in World War I (The Great War). We cannot fathom the level of barbaric violence inherent to battles before modern warfare. Yet we feign outrage at the cost of war without truly addressing the human cost and the cost to humanity itself.

We forget that each human being is unique and amazing and a miracle. We have cheapened life so much.

Four years ago, we tracked each “Covid Death” and were wringing our hands over every single death – Willing to sacrifice numerous freedoms to save lives. I mean, giving up a few freedoms if it can save ONE LIFE, isn’t a big deal…right?

(Shall I mention again, though, that if you disagreed with this premise...YOUR life was no longer valued by those claiming EVERY life was so valuable we ALL needed to give up our freedoms if it meant we could save just ONE?)

But then we ALSO claim to believe that the heavy loss of life in war is to protect our freedom.

This to me is a bit strange, and it helps bring all these conversations back to freedom, and it really is the question I want the reader to ponder today.

What is a human life worth? How many human lives is our freedom worth? How many liberties should we be willing to sacrifice to prevent the loss of life? Should we be focused on the “common good”?

Who gets to decide what the “common good” is? Likewise – who gets to decide what “good” is? Who gets to decide what holds the most value? Is it human life? Is it the individual? the common good or the collective society? Or is it Liberty?

These are all good questions, but on a day like today, there are a couple of other questions that beg for asking:

What are we supposed to be remembering on Remembrance Day?

Why does the rest of the world “remember” with the poppy?

Poppies are weed-like flowers that grow in disturbed earth – and setting aside the poppy's association with sleep and death in general, battlefields are by their very character quite “disturbed.” The ground is churned up by the violent movements…and traditional battlefields were actually fields – and the blood of these soldiers who died on these fields mythologically give the corn poppy its scarlet vibrancy.

But the symbolism of the poppy as being associated with Remembrance Day originated with John McRae’s poem “In Flanders Fields.” (Feel free to look up the history of that, but I’m just going to talk about the poem for a minute.)

In Flanders Fields

By John McCrae


In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

    That mark our place; and in the sky

    The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.


We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

        In Flanders fields.


Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

    The torch; be yours to hold it high.

    If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

        In Flanders fields.


Have we kept the faith? How do we know? How CAN we know?

Or have we broken faith with the fallen?

Have we forgotten though we said we never would?

Are we holding the torch of freedom high?

Do we even know who our foe is?

Have we, too, fallen asleep?

If so, to whom can we throw the torch? If so, who will remember the sacrifice? If so, who will carry the torch of liberty? If so, will the flame go out? Has it been snuffed already?

All I can do is beseech Americans yet again to Never Forget. And…Keep the Faith.

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