Frazz (AMS) got it right, amid a flood of more traditional Memorial Day cartoons. We aren’t required to mourn throughout the full three days, and, as Caulfield says, it’s a weekend full of distractions as it marks the beginning of summer.
As Frazz himself observes, it still works. A lot of people will, at some point, go out to the cemetery and put flowers on the grave of a loved one, and not necessarily someone who died in battle as the holiday was originally founded to memorialize.
For my part, I’d rather the day stood alone, as Veterans Day does, after vets pushed back against melding 11/11/11 into a three-day mattress sale.
But, then, not everyone gets Veterans Day off, which demonstrates the power of business over sentiment: It would, no doubt, be observed more widely if it didn’t pop up at inconvenient times.
That’s the trouble with war, and death, and national service: It’s all so inconvenient!
“Memento Mori” — remember that thou will die — is a reminder that all is vanity and will end, but also that you should make the most of what you’ve been given.
Frazz followed that Sunday strip with today’s more compact observation, which could be the prompt for an entire seminar. We used to only lower the flag to half-staff on rare occasions, like the death of a president, and on Memorial Day, but it seems today that the upper half of a flagpole has become a vestigial organ, it is so rarely used.
And, yes, it seems we’re asked to observe moments of silence for something or other before nearly every public gathering. After a while, they lose their impact, and today is a good example.
The Civil War, the reason for this holiday, saw approximately 2.5% of the population die in battle. It’s as if 7 million were killed today, roughly seven times the toll taken by covid in the latest pandemic.
I’m a little dubious about today’s Edison Lee (KFS), because I’m not sure how many times families end up with the uniforms of their war dead.
But it is likely that Ray, who was a classmate of my older sister, brought his uniform home, because at that point, he didn’t know that the effects of Agent Orange were going to make him a victim of Vietnam in a few decades.
But he’s more likely memorialized by the three bronze stars and three Purple Hearts his mother had framed in her living room while he was still remembered in November, not yet in May.
This is not a day to pick nits, but to remember.
Juxtaposition of the Day
It is a day for speeches, but the degree of political criticism in those speeches should match the degree of crisis at the moment.
Wishing for an end to war seems only a slightly less empty wish than the cliche of a little boy saluting a tombstone. Ramirez combines that little boy with the equally frequent assumption that war is a necessary prelude to freedom.
Telnaes, by contrast, offers a quiet jeremiad, asking those who live to honor the price paid by those who died.
It’s far more specific than wondering where have all the flowers gone and pondering the cyclical nature of history, and assumes that freedom must be fought for in times of peace as well as in times of war.
It’s a matter of matching your message to the level of crisis you feel at the moment, and vague wishes for peace suggest contentment. Calling forth a generation of anti-fascists does not.
The holiday poses a challenge for cartoonists, but it’s a free country, so choose your own setting.
A variety of people take credit for the holiday, but I was struck by coverage of the dedication of the battlefields at Chickamauga in 1895, including the above editorial in the Chattanooga paper, taking a visiting politician to task for being too political in his speech.
Other coverage of the gathering told of veterans from both sides meeting on the once-disputed ground to shake hands and share memories, which echoes the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr — seriously wounded at Ball’s Bluff, Antietam and Fredericksburg — a decade earlier in the best and most famous of Memorial Day speeches, which should be required reading for anyone marking the day, and doubly so for those who do not.
Holmes was unsurprised that veterans of the war could greet each other, regardless of whether they’d worn blue or gray.
Holmes also acknowledged those who were not permitted to fight but who nonetheless paid a price when someone died.
Which of us has not been lifted above himself by the sight of one of those lovely, lonely women, around whom the wand of sorrow has traced its excluding circle–set apart, even when surrounded by loving friends who would fain bring back joy to their lives?
The war left a flood of young widows, often with small children and pensions that left them taking in laundry and struggling to get by, dying their clothing black because they could not afford to buy the elaborate mourning dress that custom dictated they wear.
Small wonder so many towns erected memorials and gathered on what they also called Decoration Day to place fresh wreaths and flowers on memorials, particularly since so many young men died on distant battlefields and were never found, much less brought home to lie in lovingly tendered graves.
Read Holmes’ classic speech, which will help you understand why, after his distinguished career on the Supreme Court, he wanted to be buried alongside his comrades at Arlington National Cemetery, his military service noted above his later career.
And read Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering, about those at home who had to learn to deal with so much unprecedented death at such an unprecedented distance.
Or find, and stream, this American Experience documentary based on her book: