Thursday, June 01, 2006

All or None at All

By: Ele_

Just a few days ago our nation celebrated Memorial Day by honoring those who died defending our freedom and our way of life. We all did – well, let's say, all to speak of – but in different ways.

Some of us carried flowers to the graves of soldiers or participated in public activities that signified our indebtedness to fallen heroes. Others spent the long weekend at home, with their kids or grandkids. There is nothing wrong with that either, because there cannot be a better remembrance of the past than nurturing the future.

Yet others headed to the malls. Don't be too quick to take offence There’s More... Expand Postwith them. This is a part of our way of life and on the battlefield one doesn't select which part is worth dying for and which is not – it's either all or none. So a peaceful shopping traffic is also a memorial and even if lacking in monumentality is no less lasting.

Regrettably there were, as usual, the few, the pathetic, the … but let's talk of something else first. Memorial Day is the legacy of the Civil War. Here is how it started:

"Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No.11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war)".
So let's talk of the Civil War. Between two surrenders – of Fort Sumter on April 13, 1861 and of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865 – it lasted for 4 years. To say that it started as a continuous string of Southern victories would be incorrect because, as in most wars, both sides had their shares of successes and failures. The Union troops won several engagements in West Virginia prior to the first Confederate victory in the First Manassas Battle. Yet, until Gettysburg, things didn't look very bright for the North and even after it there were quite a few disappointments.

And that is just the military part of it, not counting the Reconstruction, which lasted for more than a decade. Most certainly, each setback planted in susceptible minds an additional reason to doubt the final outcome. After all, one can't just invade a country (so what if self-proclaimed, wasn't the Union itself self-proclaimed too?), tell its people that their way of life is wrong, and enforce one's own by force of arms. Not to mention civilian casualties, not to mention European powers' disapproval. Not to mention shut-down newspapers, raging riots and even Habeas Corpus being for a while suspended… Not to mention…

Turned out, bloody well one can and today we have his statue on the National Mall. In this picture it's right there, behind the columns. But that's not really the point. The point is that not every Union soldier was Joshua L. Chamberlain or Robert Gould Shaw. There were those mistreating POWs and there were those breaking into homes and killing their inhabitants, whether armed or not, whether on orders or without. There was burning Atlanta and there was burning New York City.

To dispel it all by referring to a few bad apples and such is easy but the reality might be very different. It is entirely possible that those who stood fast at Gettysburg and those who left a path of devastation and death from Atlanta to Savannah were ones and the same. And, to think of it, do we know everything of Chamberlain and Shaw? I mean the real ones, not the larger than life characters of the screenplays.

Wars bring much confusion, and not only on the outside, events-wise, but also the inner one, inside each and every one of those who fight them. Action heroes, whose vision is clear and the aim steady at all times, dwell in the celluloid domain; real wars sadly lack them. Otherwise, perhaps there would've been no wars. But there are, so we talk of the fog of war and this fog not just brings up the best and the worst – it brings it up in the same people.

Are we to exhume every military grave in a mindless quest to separate those, who have never deviated from the rigid formulae of morality derived in the air-conditioned comfort of ivory towers, and honor only them? I say, we honor all or none at all, because what matters is whether they have died in a war to propagate slavery or to abolish it, and America doesn't fight the former kind.

Should one select to honor none, one must detest any armed conflict and therefore the military itself because its only purpose is to engage in such conflicts. That is, of course, the position of the few that I have mentioned in the beginning of this article. Basically they see the world as one big courtroom, where one prevails by virtue of a better-reasoned argument. What doesn't occur to the few – and that's why they are the pathetic – is that a courtroom is orderly only because bailiffs with guns are present and everyone knows that they wouldn't hesitate to use them if necessary, even though an innocent bystander might get hurt in the process.

So when we return to the roots of Memorial Day and honor Union soldiers we honor them all because the rude but worth remembering reality is that without Sherman's March to the Sea, slavery might've been still around and there cannot be the land of the free in which some are slaves. It's either all or none at all.