Send your child to plant a flag

May 27, 2013 

"It was my view then, and still is, that you don't make war without knowing why. Knowledge of course is always imperfect, but it seemed to me that when a nation goes to war it must have reasonable confidence in the justice and imperative of its cause. You can't fix your mistakes. Once people are dead, you can't make them undead."

-- Tim O'Brien, "The Things They Carried"

For 145 years, since right after the Civil War, Americans have gone to local cemeteries to honor those who died while serving in the military. This day is about debt.

We try to repay them by decorating their graves, by playing patriotic tunes and by marching the survivors past their tombstones. We remember their individual spirits, or we reflect on them collectively for their sacrifices.

But the debt is unpayable.

Maybe our best course is to stay close to the origins of Memorial Day. We once called it Decoration Day, because we went to the cemeteries to place wreaths or flags on the graves of our war dead. We still have our Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts place flags to mark the day.

Having our children face that bit of reality seems to be a better attempt at repayment. Maybe the experience will offer them a thread of understanding, understanding of the sacrifices they may be asked to make or that they may ask of their brothers and sisters. Maybe they will avoid that which cannot be fixed.

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