Mon 2024-May-27

Memorial Day 2024

Tagged: Beauty / NotableAndQuotable / Politics / Religion / Retirement / Sadness / TheDivineMadness

Apparently, it’s Memorial Day in the US. Again. Seems like this happens every year, or something. Here at Château Weekend, we still have ambivalent feelings about it (as is the custom of our tribe).

A Minor Holiday Less Appreciated, Like Music in a Minor Key

Yes, Memorial Day is supposed to be a relatively minor incumbent in the American holiday pantheon.

But it’s really hard just to ignore it, so we’ve had a few things to say upon this occasion in the past [1] [2], here on this Crummy Little Blog That Nobody Reads (CLBTNR). It’s a holiday seemingly about honoring war dead, but nowadays it seems to veer almost into a Molochian sacrificial worship, and validation of militarism, nationalism, and other Republican modes of thought. I remember back when Republican insanities were mere inanities; I liked it better back then.

Just as we wrote in 2022, it still is a cause for rage and despair to watch our institutions quiver helplessly, paralyzed by right-wing disinformation. Why is Trump still free? Why is the system so susceptible to his never-ending attempts to throw sand in the gears to disrupt it? Why do Republicans want to end democracy? Why can’t we supply sufficient arms to Ukraine for them to win and be done? Why can’t we cut off arms to Israel to force them to stop the Gaza genocide? Why are despicable people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Matt Gaetz allowed to be Congress’s own Buffoon Squad of white supremacy and ignorance? (On the other hand, Henry Kissinger is no longer among the living. In a spirit of de mortuis nihil nisi bonum, let us hope that his newfound moral perspective will let him grow into greater compassion.)

The answer, of course, is that the cause is Republican blockades of nearly everything worthwhile. (That brings the question of why Democrats somehow get the blame?)

As we noted in 2023, Memorial Day began as a Black tradition in Charleston, South Carolina:

  • The now-free Black community reburied some Union soldiers killed in a prison camp into more honorable graves. They decorated them, sang some hymns and had a picnic.
  • This so angered the racist whites that the moved the graves, replaced them with a monument to a Confederate general, and began decorating Confederate graves only.
  • This, in turn, incensed the Northerners to begin decorating their war dead as well.

That’s the holiday that has come down to us: originating in a war of treason to defend human slavery, a racist suppression of a Black holiday, and a reaction to that from the rest of us. It’s a hard origin to contemplate!

So today we contemplate our war dead and the possible death of our democracy, both pushed into the grave by an anti-democratic minority who seem only to want war, authoritarianism, and white supremacy.

It’s… too much to contemplate with equanimity.

Our Now-Annual Ritual

James Hilton: 'Lost Horizon', 1933 PBS: 'Lost Horizon', 1937, directed by Frank Capra With that burden being imposed, we’ve had an annual ritual of retreating into fantasy in a psychological attempt at drawing down the moon. That is, engaging in a fantasy which might motivate us to find ways of realizing bits of the fantasy. The fantasy in question is of a kind, peaceful community that protects and propagates humanity’s intellectual and spiritual patrimony. It’s good to be motivated about that.

Our choice of escapist fantasy is, as always, James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon [3], and Frank Capra’s 1937 film adaptation. [4] There are some unacceptable attitudes about women and Asians which were common in the 1930s and require some effort to ignore now. But that effort is well-rewarded: much of the point of the racist bits is to point out the hero is against racism, and how we should all struggle to rise above that.

As we summarized the plot a couple years ago:

The plot is interesting, both as an allegory and as a directly & literally applicable warning to the present day. In the 1930s, a British diplomat in western India (modern Pakistan) helps some people escape a local revolution. However, their mysterious pilot secretly kidnaps them, flying to a remote mountain lamasery and valley in Tibet. There they discover they have been recruited to join a small society collecting the world’s art, music, literature, and scientific knowledge to withstand “the coming storm” – the fear of World War II that was already in the air in 1933.

It’s a good sample of utopian novels. As an inveterate utopian dreamer, I hope it can inspire in all of us, but especially in me, greater acts of kindness and tikkun olam. We must make peace with the fact that we must make peace.

The Official Chanson du Blog-Weekend for Memorial Day

No holiday is complete without a song.

Herewith, the now-canonical chanson du blog for Memorial Day, is William Stafford’s poem [5] about the power of spaces that are not war monuments, as sung by John Gorka [6]:

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed – or were killed – on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

That is the sort of Memorial Day space I want: a space so peaceful, we forget its name.

The Weekend Conclusion

Of course, that is not reality.

Our reality is that Trump continually dishonors the country, himself, and everything else he touches with his complete moral squalor. I am frustrated to the point of incandescent rage that the system is somehow so glacially slow and woefully impotent that it quivers helplessly at the thought of restraining him.

After he’s imprisoned, we can think about becoming once again an honorable people. Until then, any such talk is just pretense.

(Ceterum censeo, Trump incarcerandam esse.)

Notes & References

1: Weekend Editor, “Memorial Day 2022”, Some Weekend Reading blog, 2022-May-30.

2: Weekend Editor, “Memorial Day 2023”, Some Weekend Reading blog, 2023-May-29.

3: J Hilton, Lost Horizon, MacMillan, 1933.

Amusingly, this was the first in the series of “pocket books” (what we call paperbacks today) put out by MacMillan in the US. So it’s the first American paperback, ever.

Also amusingly, I first read it in an old World War II “military edition” intended for soldiers on leave. Putting one of the more famously and powerfully pacifist novels about escaping to a utopian paradise to avoid war? Somebody thought it was a good idea to put that in the hands of soldiers on break from fighting! It’s either shockingly clueless or breathtakingly subversive. Hard to disapprove, either way.

4: F Capra (director), R Riskin (screenwriter), et al., Lost Horizon, Columbia Pictures, 1937.

NB: There is a very regrettable 1973 remake (as a musical?!). It is about as deplorable as you may imagine. Film critics Dreyfuss & the Medveds put this musical abomination on their list of the 50 worst films of all time.

Don’t waste a couple hours of your life watching it like I did; watch the original instead. Then read the book!

5: WE Stafford, “At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border”, The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, 1998. Retrieved 2021-Sep-05 from the Poetry Foundation.

6: J Gorka, “Where no monument stands”, YouTube, home video made 2020-Sep-27, retrieved 2021-Sep-05. Gorka wrote the song in the 1980s.

Published Mon 2024-May-27

Gestae Commentaria

Comments for this post are closed pending repair of the comment system, but the Email/Twitter/Mastodon icons at page-top always work.