I try, I really do. I go to the parades, or I try to write something heart-stirring on one of my blogs. And every time, the loudspeakers end up blaring cheap, soulless Lee Greenwood, or I end up staring at the page, finding no patriotic sentiment worth sharing. What I find feels cheap and forced, and only makes me angry. And when I encounter these feelings, I find that my heart just isn't in it.
It's not just Memorial Day, of course; it's like that with a lot of "patriotic" holidays. You'd think that, being a vet, my patriotism would be much stronger, much more "on display." But it's not. The years have made me cautious about patriotism; it's a loaded word these days, and it now connotes ideas outside of its original meaning.
I realize that some will react to my confession with horror, and use it to try and question me. I can hear the charge now: How dare you question those who sacrificed for your freedom? To which I answer: my problem is not with the past sacrifices that my predecessors in uniform have made, but rather with the use of that sacrifice to quell dissent in the present.
I feel like, to be considered a patriot these days, one has to unthinkingly champion any war we've ever fought; to do otherwise is "hurting the troops." In this regard, I feel like patriotism is no longer a common ground, but rather a cudgel wielded to enforce conformity. If you question a given war, or even war in general, you just hate America. As such, patriotism is no longer an affirmation of shared values; it's a sign of deference to authority. I'm not comfortable with that kind of patriotism.
I don't want to love my country just because someone else says I should. That's not freedom.
My problem with Memorial Day is not with honoring those who died for our country; it's with the fact that nobody questions what they died for, or whether their deaths then can be used to justify the reasons we send soldiers to die now. Ask anyone that question: "What are our soldiers dying for?" and I'll guarantee you they'll give some answer to do with "freedom" or "liberty." However, when pressed further, they'll be unable to quantify any answer beyond that. And that bothers me. Meanwhile, more soldiers keep dying, but do we ever think to question why they have to die? Not really.
How can we eulogize the war dead, even as we bring ever more flag-draped caskets home from wars whose intent and scope are barely-defined? Can anyone tell me? And as we memorialize those dead, is anyone really concerning themselves with the veterans who are still alive: the ones who've come back broken, or scarred, or unable to adjust back to daily life?
Not really, it seems.
A lot of very brave servicemembers have sacrificed over the years, all for the greater good of our country. I'm not denying that. But it bothers me that, even as we honor their sacrifices, we continue killing and maiming soldiers today, for a set of ideas that nobody seems to be able to explain. That strikes me as offensive, and ignorant. Life is too precious to throw away without good cause.
Worse yet, to do so in the name of a cause we ourselves can barely define.