This article originally appeared on Memorial Day 2012
We might as well get rid of Memorial Day, for all the good it does us. Originally
the last Monday in May has been the designated time for us to remember the
war dead and honor their sacrifice – while, perhaps, taking in the lessons
of the many conflicts that have marked our history as a free nation. In line
with the modern trend of universal trivialization, however, the holiday has
to mark the beginning of summer, when we get out the barbecue grill and have
the neighbors over for hamburgers and beer. As for contemplating the meaning
of the day in the context of our current and recent wars, that is left to
those few pundits who pay attention to foreign policy issues, or else to writers
of paeans to the “Greatest
Generation” – World War II being the only modern war our panegyrists deign
to recall, since it is relatively untouched by the ravages of historical revisionism.
Indeed, as far as our wars are concerned, the very concept of historical
memory has vanished from the post-9/11 world. It seems the earth was born
anew on September 11, 2001, and only ragged remnants of our mystified
past – mostly from World War II and the Civil War – survived the purge. In
the new version our victories are exaggerated
while our defeats – e.g. Vietnam, Korea, our nasty little covert wars in Central
and South America – are not even mentioned, let alone considered in depth.
The abolition of historical memory is one of the worst aspects of modernity:
it is certainly the most depressing. For the modern man, it’s an effort to
recall what happened last
week, never mind
the last century. The news cycle spins madly and ever-faster, and the result
is that we are lost in the blur of Now: for all intents and purposes, we are
a people without a history, who recall past events – if we remember them at
all – as one would summon a vague and confusing dream.
Vietnam war was the last major conflict that caused us to reconsider our
foreign policy of global intervention for any length of time, and at this
point it has been thoroughly buried in the public imagination. For a brief
moment the so-called Vietnam
Syndrome was bemoaned by the political class, who complained it prevented
them from indulging their desire to intervene anywhere and everywhere at will.
And the memory of that futile crusade did have a restraining effect for some
years – until the
passage of time, the
collapse of Communism, and – finally – the
9/11 terrorist attacks wiped the slate clean.
Never mind remembering the lessons of Vietnam – we’ve repressed even the
bitter lessons of our most…