Monday, May 28, 2007

Another Look at Memorial Day

May 28, 2007

Memorial Day, I was taught, was started in the South after the Civil War. Widows, mothers, and others who loved men who had lost their lives in the defense of the South in that tragic war went to cemeteries often and put flowers on the graves of their beloved men. It became institutionalized as Confederate Memorial Day, in a few years co-opted by the bereaved on both sides. At first the women of the North had their day for decorating graves, and they called it Decoration Day; but over time the two sides came together to honor all who died in the Civil War under the appellation of Memorial Day, and one day was set aside.

In the South, where many diehards still reside, there are pockets where Confederate Memorial Day is observed on various days in the year, but let us face it, there have been many more men lost in many other wars, and the memories of the Southern cause have been blurred by so many re-inventions that there is absolutely no point in defending anything about that particular war.

Imagine my surprise in reading this in an article by Adam Cohen in today's New York Times:

Memorial Day got its start after the Civil War, when freed slaves and abolitionists gathered in Charleston, S.C., to honor Union soldiers who gave their lives to battle slavery. The holiday was so closely associated with the Union side, and with the fight for emancipation, that Southern states quickly established their own rival Confederate Memorial Day.

He gets his information from an impeccable source, Dr. David Blight of Yale University, who has written several award-winning histories espousing this theory. In fact, Dr. Blight's take on that particular war has helped shape our perceptions of our wars, our history, and our racism.

Well and good, and I hope I'm not considered a racist (but I feel certain I would be by Dr. Blight) because of what Memorial Day means to me. I don't love the holiday (except that it usually falls, as it does this year, on my birthday), and I certainly don't love the Civil War or the Southern cause. I Googled Memorial Day and found many an entry, not all of which support the idea that the day itself has helped the country to proceed with ignoring civil rights. This one I found quite fair and balanced, partly because it re-tells the old old story I grew up with, true or false. Don't miss the page on Mrs. Logan.

Let us observe the day with not receiving mail, finding the bank closed, thinking of the real meaning of each and every war, and also not forgetting that it's my birthday.

10 comments:

tangerine said...

Celebrate the day by "not receiving mail"??? How about that barbecue I'm going to this afternoon?!

oldphilosopher said...

Miss Finding Fair Hope, haven't you heard what Harry Truman used to say? "History is written by the winners."

Bert said...

The winners write the history and then they celebrate it.

Hey, Ms. Even-Handed Hope, you're a winner, so I hope you're celebrating! Your birthday, not that the South lost...

Mary Lois said...

The South may have lost, but Fairhope wasn't even founded then!

sinjap said...

well, happy birthday! and i've heard some varying histories on memorial day too...but to put it simply, as i tried to explain to my 4 year old why we were hanging a flag on our porch...it's a day for honoring the good guys who fought the bad guys to protect the rest of us, and sometimes didn't make it...that was good enough for her for now...we'll get into southern indoctrination in a few years :-)

John Sweden said...

I’ll accept memorial day when we begin honoring all of the innocent victims of those who believe that it is OK acceptable and "honorable" to kill someone else simply because they those who support them didn't and don't have the imagination, intelligence, patience, honor and courage, to find a better way.

There are no “good guys” in war. Those who pick-up the gun and are willing to use it represent the worst that humanity has to offer and are the sad failures of human values. To remember in them in honor of any war instead of their victims is disgrace and the ultimate crime against humanity.

I can be pretty sure every Iraqi mother and Vietnamese grandmother is telling their four year olds “it's a day for honoring the good guys who fought the bad guys to protect the rest of us, and sometimes didn't make it...”

Mary Lois said...

Damn, I must be the only one old enough to think Memorial Day is about the Civil War! Talk about being a dinosaur...

John Sweden said...

Sorry FF,
"Ditto" Civil Warriors
and...

I can be pretty sure every Southern mother and every Northern Mother were telling their four year olds “it's a day for honoring the good guys who fought the bad guys to protect the rest of us, and sometimes didn't make it...”

Mary Lois said...

Exactly! I never thought Memorial Day was about good guys and bad guys (any more than I think that war is about good guys and bad guys), but about those who gave their lives. It's about cemeteries, graves, and regret. It's about missing young men whose lives were taken -- or I should say given -- too soon.

Certainly nobody is taught that the War Between the States was about good guys and bad guys, unless you believe the Yankee propaganda that it was about slavery...which means my side was the bad guys. Oh well. I had a happy birthday, and one of my presents was a bouquet of red, white, and blue flowers! It's really striking on my coffee table.

sinjap said...

not all wars have definite good guys and bad guys i agree, but i'm trying to explain it to a 4 year old, not a 40 year old...those are the terms she understands...and i guess since everyone has a different way to celebrate their birthday, we can all have different ways to celebrate (or choose not to celebrate) memorial day

mr. sweden, those people you choose not to honor on memorial day are a big part of the reason you have the freedom to live where you do and go off like you do...yes, there are good and bad guys in the world and there are always innocent victims of every conflict...but if we sit on our hands every time there is some battle to be fought, afraid of collateral damage, then we would all eventually become innocent (and stupid and cowardly) victims