We might as well get rid of Memorial Day, for all the good it does us. Originally “Decoration Day,” 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 been paganized 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 and glorified, 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.
The 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.
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