In our opinion: It would not hurt Americans to remember the reasons Memorial Day exists
As we enjoy the long weekend that marks the symbolic start of summer, it serves us to remember just how and why we came to set aside a specific holiday for the purpose of remembering. Memory, after all, is fleeting.
It was originally called "Decoration Day," having emerged from the practice of decorating grave sites where soldiers of the Civil War were interred. A fractured nation was seeking any measure of comfort after the most terrible conflict in its history. No war, before or since, has claimed as many casualties.
How difficult it is to comprehend a conflict in which 2 percent of the total population perishes. Imagine such a war today, within our borders, in which more than 6 million people are killed.
In the century and a half that has since passed, we have fought in many conflicts. But we have never fought against ourselves.
We are now again in a fractured time. There are steep ideological divides and partisanship is growing more rigid. There is talk of compromise and collaboration, but it is mostly just talk. The timbre of the political debate is shrill, and growing more so as we proceed toward the election season.
It would do no harm to anyone on either side of the debate to take a moment to remember the seminal reasons this uniquely American holiday exists. The nation fought a war to gain independence as a federation of states, and then it fought over the preservation of that union. Since then, Americans have fought many times to defend the union, and to protect against tyranny.
We rightly pause at the end of May to honor the sacrifice of those who died in service to our country. We honor them regardless of whether or not we agree with the reasons they were sent into battle. We honor them because they accepted the call of duty in the service of a single, united nation.
The first Memorial Day came about in recognition of the great toll taken to preserve that single nation. We may not always agree on the direction our country is headed, or how it is being governed. But we have historically agreed that our ability to overcome our differences is the essence of the American experience.
And that, especially today, is worth remembering.
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