Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day: War; Celebrating; Remembering; and Building a Better World

(From Remember, Spyder_Monkey; via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
"...Till the war-drum throbbed no longer, and the battle-flags were furl'd
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

"There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law....
("Locksley Hall," Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
As a youth, those were among my favorite lines of poetry. A half-century later, they still are: although I've learned to temper my optimism with patience.


Today is Memorial Day, the third day in a three-day weekend that's the unofficial start of summer's vacation season. It's also a day when some of us honor those who died while serving in the United States armed forces.

Following our custom, the American president will probably lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Looking Back

Folks have been decorating burial sites with flowers for thousands of years: and, from what we found in Shanidar IV burials, quite possibly tens of thousands. My guess is that we've been doing something of the sort for upwards of 300,000 years, and that's another topic.

Our Memorial Day is much more recent. Starting in 1865, quite a few Americans remembered those killed in the War Between the States and other conflicts in May. All that got merged into a standardized three-day weekend in 1971, and that's yet another topic.

I think it would be nice if wars never happened, or if all conflicts could be settled over a cup of tea. Sadly, we do not live in a nice world. On the other hand, I'm cautiously optimistic.

After slaughtering each other in a series of increasingly devastating wars, Europeans have managed to avoid an internecine war for several generations: and even cobbled together the European Union.

Looking Ahead

If the descendants of my ancestors could learn to bury the hatchet metaphorically, and not in each other: my guess is that anybody can.

The process of building something like Tennyson's "Federation of the world" will take hard work and time: my guess is that we're looking at generations, centuries. But I think establishing what the Catechism calls an "international authority with the necessary competence and power" to sort out conflict without war will be worth the effort. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2307-2317)

Meanwhile, I think there's good sense in these words:
" 'Immaturus obi; sed tu felicior annos vive meos: Bona Republica! vive tuos.'

'I died before my time, but thou O great and good Republic, live out my years while you live out your own.'
(Inscriptions on Meriwether Lewis memorial, via National Park Service.)
In a way, folks who take a vacation during Memorial Day weekend are following Meriwether Lewis' advice: and, in a sense, honoring our nation's dead by enjoying the comparative freedom and peace we have within our borders.

Related posts:


Brigid said...

Capitalization: "Tennyson's Federation of the world will take hard work and time"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

Oddly enough, that capital "F" is the way Tennyson wrote it. I figure the poet intended "Federation" to be read as a proper noun.

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