Memorial Day is a day set aside for reflection. It is a day meant for us to honor our fallen dead.
The meaning of Memorial Day has changed a great deal since it was founded. At its inception, it was meant to honor African American soldiers who fought and died in the Civil War, both our soldiers who were born-free, as well as those who were former slaves, men and women, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters who gave everything they had, to keep the union whole.
Memorial Day was created to honor those who died for an America which they only dreamed could exist. They died for these United States, for a vision of it, but they got something different, they got this reality, an America that is still in a state of becoming.
Those men and women died for us, for good or ill, they died for us.
We have yet to repay them, we have yet to fulfill their hopes for the America they dreamt of; America, daughter of liberty, America the true, arbiter of justice.
Now, we honor our dead on this day; our soldiers and sailors and airmen, our police and firefighters; we honor them.
We honor all of our citizens who spent their lives, who gave their days to public service; we honor our doctors and nurses and teachers, the good works of our ordinary citizens, of our friends and neighbors, we honor everyone’s sacrifices; known and unknown, and those yet to come.
This year we must honor teachers, in Santa Fe, Texas; in Parkland, Florida; and elsewhere, who stood in the way of gunfire to protect their students and paid for it with their lives.
We must honor them, and their sacrifice, they died upholding our most cherished values, in recognition of the fact that we are one people, that we are descended from many nations, and that we each come into the world with the absolute right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that all other rights are subordinate to these.
On this day of all days, do not make the mistake of thinking that it is our service women and men who keep us free. It has been at least sixty years since America faced an “existential” threat from a foreign power.
We do not face such a threat right now; not from Iran, not from North Korea, not from Russia, not from anywhere.
The real threat we face is from ourselves, from our ignorance, and from our fear.
It is we, and we alone who can protect us from ourselves.
Our own apathy, prejudice, and hatred, these are the most dangerous forces aligned against us, against our freedom. They are more deadly than any other worldly power.
To honor our fallen dead, you must do your part to keep us free. You must participate in our democracy.
Vote, stay informed, organize, build alliances, and collaborate.
Our collective failure as citizens of the Unites States has allowed a criminal, autocratic, demagogue to hold power in the White House, allowed the Supreme Court to state that corporations are to be treated as people, and money regarded as free speech, while those same justices have told ordinary American’s that their right to free speech does not include the right to be heard, and that our right to vote does not include the guarantee that our votes will be counted.
This rank cynicism is more dangerous to our freedom than any rag tag group of militants half way around the world, more dangerous than immigrants looking for a better life on our side of our border, as my own forebears did when they came here a little over a hundred years ago.
Honor our fallen dead. Not with cards and flowers and barbeques (but do those things because they are good), honor them by standing up to racism and bigotry, to religious zealotry and corporate greed, to scientific ignorance and xenophobia, to corruption in our public officials, in our highest offices, and to the notion that the right to keep and bear arms does not include our responsibility to regulate them.
Honor them by participating in our public discourse. Do not lose heart, and do not give up.
We must rebuild America, reform our institutions, for the sake of Americans and our future generations. We must take responsibility for your own freedom.
Honor the fallen, in this way.
Jay P. Botten, Veteran, U.S.N., Hospital Corps, 1990 – 1994
Given 1st 2015.05.25
Revised 2016.05.3, Revised 2017.05.29