Once upon a Time, in a Vanished Land

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 27, 2003 | Go to article overview

Once upon a Time, in a Vanished Land


Byline: Wesley Pruden, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A lot of people take credit for thinking up Memorial Day, but almost nobody remembers what we were thinking about in the first place.

All it means to most Americans is a marker of the beginning of summer (which is actually still a month away). Beginning today, it's OK to wear two-tone shoes, seersucker and straw hats.

The merchants at the beach are upset because it still doesn't look like summer, or even early spring. One look out the window and it might as well be November. The merchants in Ocean City and Dewey Beach are happy when it rains, once everybody gets there. The rain drives visitors off the sand and into the shops, but a sunny Memorial Day weekend is necessary to get everybody's credit cards on the scene.

For the rest of us, Memorial Day is only the first three-day loaf of the year. That's what holidays are for, which is why we've dumbed them all down. Memorial Day was once set aside to mark the graves of the war dead with flowers, just as Veterans Day was once a marker for Armistice Day, to commemorate Nov. 11, 1918 "the silencing of the guns at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" as the end of the war to end war. (Do not laugh.) Labor Day barely any longer honors the working men (and women), and is intended now to drive the moms of America into the nearest Wal-Mart to buy shoes and shirts and paper and pencils to send the kids back to school. Washington and Lincoln no longer get a day of honor; their days have morphed into a commercial hybrid called Presidents Day, when we're supposed to run out to buy a car. Martin Luther King Day still celebrates Martin Luther King, but not for long. His eloquent prescriptions for brotherhood are already scorned and sneered at by the current crop of "black leaders," so it's only a matter of time until the day meant to honor his memory and what he preached will be just another excuse for a three-day weekend.

Trashing our history and its icons has become the identifying phenomenon of our national culture, what there is left of it. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, once thought to be a memorial of unassailable dignity, has been reopened once to put in more unknown dead (and to take one out after his identity was belatedly discovered), diluting the power of its eloquent simplicity. Now it is to be tampered with again to repair a crack in the marble. …

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