My father was ambivalent about Memorial Day.
He was drafted into the Army during World War II and then, to his dismay, was drafted again into the Air Force for the Korean War. He served as a navigator/bombardier in a B-26, and had to fly 50 missions over enemy territory, sometimes with anti-aircraft flak exploding all around him. He hated war.
I, too, am ambivalent about Memorial Day but for different reasons. I was only 4 years old when my father flew those 40 missions in Korea, so I don’t remember much about it in a personal way, but I clearly remember Vietnam. I was eligible for the draft in those days, and the possibility of me fighting in those rice paddies gave me nightmares.
There is a draft right now in Ukraine, but the young men in that country feel very differently than I did in the 1960s. I was convinced that the whole situation in Vietnam was not just a mistake but downright immoral. What a contrast. The young men and women in Ukraine know what they are fighting for.
I want to feel love for my country on Memorial Day, and here is how I think I might be able to do it this May 29:
My understanding is that the seeds of a day of remembering began right after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox. In 1868 people in small towns like Forest Park — in both the North and the South — needed occasions for public grieving the loss of loved ones and the terrible loss of life in that war, and that makes me realize that parents, spouses and children in Russia are going through the same emotional and spiritual grieving processes as their counterparts in Ukraine.
The problem is that, in their search for healing, people tend to create narratives about what happened or, more often, accept narratives created by someone else. Talk to someone who has been recently divorced and you will hear a narrative, a story about what happened to cause the relational polarization. Then talk to the other
The victors, it is said, write the history of what happened in a war, but the losers also write narratives. The “Lost Cause of the Confederacy,” according to the Encyclopedia of Virginia, “is an interpretation of the American Civil War that seeks to present the war from the perspective of Confederates and in the best possible terms. … In a postwar climate of economic, racial and social uncertainty, the Lost Cause created and romanticized the Old South and the Confederate war effort, often distorting history in the process.”
In that sense, the Trump supporters’ Big Lie is a lost-cause narrative.
I respect Germany so much for preserving the site of the Dachau concentration camp to remind themselves and us of the horrors that can result from basically good people surrendering their sense of right and wrong to a demagogue who distorted reality by lying about the cause of their suffering and creating a MGGA (Make Germany Great Again) narrative.
These days we have two polarizing narratives competing with each other in the minds of the 334 million people who call this nation home.
Look at what President Lincoln tried to do in his Second Inaugural Address. First, he spoke the truth. He named slavery as the cause of the war. As with South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s strategy for moving toward national healing, Lincoln declared that part of building a bridge between disparate cultures included constructing it on a foundation of truth.
In the two years following the end of World War II (1945-1946), the victorious Allies conducted the Nuremberg Trials “held for the purpose of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, criminals who were indicted on such charges as crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.” (History Channel)
Creating a narrative based on the facts is critical for restorative justice to happen.
But for justice to actually be restorative, speaking the truth must not be done with the intent of humiliating the other side or vindicating ourselves. In that regard Lincoln first tried to find common ground. He said, “Both [the North and South] read the same Bible and pray to the same God and each invokes His aid against the other.”
Then Lincoln added what I will call “love for the enemy” to the foundation of truth. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, let us strive to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”
After WWII, the U.S. walked that talk by implementing the Marshall Plan, which eventually gave war-torn countries in Europe, including Germany and Italy, $12 billion in aid.
This Memorial Day I will tape a gold star to my bathroom mirror as a way of memorializing those who died in our wars, whether those wars were justified or not, and trying to create a narrative in which justice for our land can actually be restorative.