More Than a 3-Day Weekend

Tomorrow is Memorial Day.

It’s equivalent to Dodenherdenking in the Netherlands, or Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth of Nations.

The holiday’s original purpose was to honor those who have been killed while serving in our nation’s military.

That’s still the holiday’s official purpose. Recent generations have used the three-day weekend as an unofficial start of summer vacation season. That’s not, I think, entirely inappropriate. I’ll get back to that.

Memorial Day began as many local and regional ceremonies in the former Confederate States of America and the Union. The CSA’s attempt at independence failed, so we call it the Civil War.

Quite a few folks, glad to see that conflict end, made efforts to rebuild this nation — and families. (May 14, 2017)

Local and regional observances called “Decoration Day” started being called “Memorial Day” in 1882. That moniker didn’t become common until after World War II. It’s been the official name since 1967.

The American president will probably lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns again this year. It is a long-standing tradition: but not, I think, essential to my nation’s survival.

Avoiding War

Avoiding war is a good idea. War kills people and breaks things.

But sometimes being nice and reasonable won’t keep innocent folks alive. I’ve said that before. (January 22, 2017)

I see human life as precious, sacred, because “…it involves the creative action of God….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2258)

Seeing myself as “human” isn’t particularly difficult. Neither is thinking of my family as people, although the kids have frayed my nerves occasionally. I’ve had the same effect on them, and that’s another topic.

Here’s where it gets — interesting.

Staying Alive, Defending Lives

I’m obliged to see everybody as ‘people.’

Each of us has equal dignity. Where we are, who we are, or how we act, doesn’t affect that. (Catechism, 360, 17001706, 19321933, 1935)

I could, seeing all human life as sacred, decide that I must not endanger the life of another person — even if the other is trying to kill me. Strict pacifism is possible. I think pacifists will thrive, as long as there are enough non-pacifists to protect them.

Over the decades, I’ve run into many assumptions about pacifism and religion: Christianity in particular.

Some folks see religion as an excuse to hate people. I don’t, but have encountered enough venom-spitting “Christians” to understand the attitude. (November 15, 2016)

Others apparently assume that a Christian must also be a pacifist. That’s also, I think, understandable.

Honoring Those Who did not Return

Reality isn’t quite that simple.

Like everyone else, I’m obliged to “serve the human community.” That’s why public authorities should have non-military service options for pacifists. (Catechism, 2239, 2311)

However, defending myself from a lethal attack is okay; even if it results in my attacker’s death. But I must use the least possible force. (Catechism, 22632267)

That’s because my life is precious. So is my attacker’s. My intent should be saving my own life, not killing another person: even if that is the unintended effect of my action. (Catechism, 2258, 22632269; “Summa Theologica,” Thomas Aquinas, II-II,64,7)

This principle also applies to societies. Leaders may authorize military action when defending the lives they’re supposed to protect. War isn’t a preferred option, but sometimes it’s less bad than the alternative. (Catechism, 23072317)

We live in a world where some folks prefer killing others to rationally discussing conflicting interests. Some of them are better-organized than their American counterparts,1 so military force is occasionally needed.

I am grateful to those who have decided to risk their lives for the sake of others. Honoring those who did not return is, I think, appropriate.

“…Live Out My Years….”

Oddly enough, I also think celebrating Memorial Day with the civilian equivalent of rest and recuperation is appropriate.

Taking a vacation during Memorial Day weekend isn’t a traditional approach to honoring our nation’s dead.

But I think it makes sense. Enjoying the comparative freedom and peace we have within our borders is arguably taking this inscription’s advice:

“‘Immaturus obi; sed tu felicior annos vive meos: Bona Republica! vive tuos.'”

“‘I died before my time, but thou O great and good Republic, live out my years while you live out your own.'”
(Inscriptions on Meriwether Lewis memorial, via National Park Service.)

Meriwether Lewis wasn’t killed in military action. He died of multiple gunshot wounds, and the money he carried was missing. Psychological evidence, and a lack of 21st-century forensic science, led to the assumption that he killed himself.

I think it’s good advice, anyway.

More of my take on life, death, and decisions:


1 Being reasonable, or not:

About Brian H. Gill

I’m a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I’m only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.

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3 Responses to More Than a 3-Day Weekend

  1. irishbrigid says:

    Funny that they should think Mr. Lewis killed himself. With the money missing, I would think murder/robbery would be top of the list.

    • Indeed. The psychological evidence is strong – his personal affairs were in disarray, he had reason to be despondent.

      Still, the missing money, and multiple wounds – including some on his hands – do not seem convincing evidence for suicide. Unless he was known to have an incredibly bad aim. I don’t know why that verdict was reached.

Thanks for taking time to comment!