Fallen Warriors

One of the things that struck me in travels through Scotland and the Canadian Maritimes was the monument in every town. Most of them were tiny, just a handful of names from each war–not because few died, but because the town was that small. The memorial at Edinburgh Castle, on the other hand, is of a scale and a simplistic majesty that imposes awe, a trick more church designers would like to have up their sleeves, I imagine.

Whatever the size, most memorials are central and public and impossible to overlook. That isn’t something we do well here. Monuments are destinations, traveled to on special occasions. Memorial Day is a single day of remembrance, Veterans Day, one more, and the rest of the time, our veterans are treated as disposable.

Some volunteered; others answered a call not of their choosing. They risked their lives and health for us. Many died. Worse yet, many killed. Many lost people who had become, in some ways, closer than kin. And we give them a day for those who lived and a day for those who died and maybe a little space out of the way.

We suck at remembering.

Fallen soldiers at least get a day, though. There are others who have fought and died for our society who don’t get that. Nor did they fight with the resources of our military or approval of our government behind them. I’m talking about the culture warriors.

It’s tempting to pretend that “culture war” is just a colorful turn of phrase. It isn’t. People have died every time our country has been persuaded to recognize the right of another group to be considered full human beings.

Workers died organizing unions. Women died claiming control of their own destinies. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Jews, Irish, Italians, eastern Europeans–all have died insisting that no one people have a monopoly on humanity. Many people died for not keeping their sexuality or gender identity a secret. Others died because keeping that secret pushed them into shadows populated by predators.

They died because they challenged rules that were basely unfair. This made them outlaws in the eyes of many, stripped them of the protections we offer those who do not presume to transgress. This made them fair game, and they were hunted. Those who didn’t die rarely escaped without injury. No one offered them medals.

In the face of this, they persisted. Because of them, fewer of us are outlaws today. We can claim protection, imperfect as it is, that was won for us in the wars. Unlike many wars, these have made the world a better place.

So go out and enjoy that better world this weekend, but as you boat and picnic and enjoy family and friends, take a moment. Remember those soldiers whom we have promised to remember, and remember the others, who are too easily forgotten.

They fought for our freedom too.

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8 Responses to “Fallen Warriors”

  1. May 22nd, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Beauzeaux says:

    In France, every village has a war memorial. England, too. Here in Canada, Remembrance Day (Nov 11) is commemorated with parades in even the smallest town. And everyone, and I mean EVERYONE wears a red poppy in the days before.
    I visited the American cemetery at Normandy a few years ago. It’s impossible to walk among the graves and not weep. There are so many and they were so young! Read “D-Day” by Stephen Ambrose, watch “Saving Private Ryan” and learn about these youngsters snatched up from cities and small towns and sent to the hell of war. And how remarkable and heroic they were.
    We need to remember instead of making Memorial Day into nothing more than a three-day weekend.

  2. May 22nd, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Jason Thibeault says:

    I have three spare poppies in my car, and I still give change to the veterans selling them whenever I have it in my pocket.

  3. May 22nd, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    There will be another post coming on Monday related to one of your countrymen and poppies.

  4. May 22nd, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Memorial Day is a somber occasion, but I think that Stephanie’s point is getting lost by the commenters; in that not all of those who sacrifice for our freedoms are in military uniform.

  5. May 23rd, 2009 at 9:06 am

    a daughter's mother says:

    The actor who turned out to be something of a bigot said it in a movie. Everybody dies. It’s how you live that’s important.

    It’s comfortable to have feet of clay, to hate where others before you have hated, to condemn where others have passed judgment, to look aside from the concerns of others because they’re not yours. It’s easy to take our freedoms for granted where others have fought for them so we don’t have to, whether it’s freedom to speak, or freedom to vote, freedom to earn a living equal to your neighbor’s no matter your category of origin, or freedom to form the family unit you chose. What’s hard and uncomfortable is recognizing that not all are yet equal and there are causes outside our own personal comfort still needing someone to stand up and fight for them. We don’t honor the fallen by taking a moment of reflection. We honor them by continuing the worthy fights.

  6. May 24th, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    arvind says:

    Awesome post Stephanie! You really have a way with words!

  7. May 25th, 2009 at 1:59 am

    Doug Alder says:

    That was so very well said Stephanie. Thank you.

  8. May 25th, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Thanks, Arvind and Doug, and welcome.

    daughter’s mother, I agree in general, which is part of the reason I spend my Memorial Day weekends with a bunch of culture warriors (and geeks). On the other hand, not everyone is raised steeped in political awareness. Reflection isn’t a bad first step.

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