Simple – and Not So Simple – Gifts
Today is Memorial Day. It’s altogether right and fitting to remember that we’re here today because hundreds of thousands of Americans, ordinary people called to extraordinary things, willingly gave up their lives. It’s one of the deepest human ways of seeing ourselves in light of what Edmund Burke called our “unbought grace of life.”
Probably 25,000 dead on the American side in the Revolutionary War; around 620,000 (both sides) during the Civil War, i.e., the struggle to preserve the union and put an end to slavery. More recently, 58,000 in Vietnam. Another 7000+ in Afghanistan and Iraq. And more, sadly, to come.
For all the controversies surrounding every one of these conflicts, we – who despite our troubles, by historical standards, live lives of rare tranquility and ease – need to remember them with no little gratitude.
That is how civics teachers in schools once would have presented this holiday. I wonder what they do these days, when our public institutions show every sign of being mentally, morally, and spiritually disturbed?
I’m not a Civil War buff. But friends who are have taken me through sites in Virginia, which are historically fascinating and deeply moving. According to one source, deaths in the war between the states were “approximately equal to the total of American fatalities in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, combined.” For us in 2023, it’s especially urgent to remember these body counts when a nation forgets sacrifice for the common good and tears itself apart, as ours seems to be doing again.