As I prepared to write this post, the Memorial Day holiday uppermost on my mind, my husband flipped on the television to the movie, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It seemed appropriate, this far-fetched tale about a group of men (and a woman!) who band together to use their unique talents to save the world.
On Memorial Day, we take time to remember our own loved ones who have passed, but also pay much-deserved respect to those who died in defense of our country. The British poet A.E. Housman has a short poem about the sacrifice of our soldiers that goes like this:
Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
but young men think it is, and we were young.
Patriotism doesn’t mean you have to blindly believe everything your government tells you or wholly support your government’s actions. The great thing about America is that we have the right to make known our disagreements with those in power, both through our free speech and at the ballot box.
There is a difference, however, between disagreeing with a government policy, or even war, and denigrating those who have chosen to defend our right to freedom with their very lives if necessary. When soldiers of the last Great War returned home, they did so to parades, confetti reigning down on them amidst the grateful cries of an entire nation. The soldiers who returned from Korea were quickly forgotten. Those who managed to come home from Vietnam outside of a body bag were scorned.
So, every Memorial Day, I feel a great swelling of pride for our soldiers past and present, along with sorrow for the times when those soldiers have been made to feel less than heroes by the very people they have sworn to protect.
There are ways to express disagreement with government policy or even war. Write letters to Congress. March on Washington. But honor always those in uniform who did not choose to shame us by defending our right to be free. They are the ones who are truly extraordinary.