Amid the cotton candy and parades under tri-colored banners, let’s remember what Memorial Day means. It isn’t a day for demonstrations of collective nationalism. It isn’t a holy day to worship symbols or to parrot top-down mantras about what is means to love one’s country. Memorial Day is about people. It’s about young men and women who have died in war. Some were volunteers; others were conscripts. Some supported the causes for which they were sent to kill and die; others did not. Some died in fear; some died too numb to be afraid. Most left behind families — children, mothers, fathers, wives, sisters and brothers — and empty places at the table.
In and after every war, these real flesh-and-blood families responded in human ways. They still do. Some shed tears of pride; some shed tears of bitterness. They all shed tears. Can we judge one drop any more or less patriotic than another? Our soldiers, sailors and airmen — alive or dead — are not symbols of nation patriotism. They aren’t symbols at all. They are human beings. The least we can do is to acknowledge that and to question whether any given war enhances or destroys that humanity.