Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial day.  I used to say that it should be a day prone to more solemn weather.  It is an odd combination -- cookouts and pools opening and beach traffic on the one hand and solemn commemorations of the million or so people who died in our nation's wars (good, bad, stupid and essential) on the other.  Perhaps it is appropriate -- liberty and citizenship have their duties, but enjoying life with one's family is a great blessing in itself, and one that we have many people to thank for.*

Being a civil war buff, this memorial I'll call to mind the sacrifice of Americans in the Civil War, those who died to reunite our country and in so doing gave it 'A New Birth of Freedom,' even if that freedom was delayed for another 100 more years, and remains imperfect.

In particular I remember the African American soldiers and sailors of the US army and navy who served, all 180,000 them, and those who died.  For them serving in the army was not so much a patriotic duty as a revolutionary statement that they were Americans, that they were men.   They were winning freedom for themselves and their people and, in so doing, for the rest of us as well**; they did not preserve freedom, as many other did in other wars, they redefined it and extended it.

20 years after thousands of black men died keeping this country together, our nation pushed African Americans out of citizenship, sometimes out of their homes, and killed them more frequently than we can now comprehend.  After years of civil rights struggles and some genuine progress, the least we can do is remember them.


EDIT:  In this vein, my interlocutor came across this awesome song from 1864 while scouring the internet for old music:
The Marching Song of the First Arkansas

It's sung to the tune of "John Brown's Body," with the familiar 'Glory!  Glory! Hallelujah!" chorus.

Some choice verses:
Oh, we're the bully soldiers of the “First of Arkansas,”
We are fighting for the Union, we are fighting for the law,
We can hit a Rebel further than a white man ever saw,
As we go marching on. (Chorus)
2. See, there above the center, where the flag is waving bright,
We are going out of slavery; we're bound for freedom's light;
We mean to show Jeff Davis how the Africans can fight,
As we go marching on! (Chorus)

*D-Day didn't happen so that we could surrender to the grammar Nazis, either.  Hence the preposition at the end of the sentence.  Damn Latinate snobbery.

**As Grant said of the poor whites of the south "they too needed emancipation."

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