Much is made on Memorial Day of flags and uniform white grave-markers in tidy rows. There are frequent admonitions to remember those who gave all, and why we Americans have the freedom to have a day off to grill hamburgers and drink beer.
I rather doubt anyone’s freedom to grill has ever been in jeopardy, and the only time drinking beer (and other potent potables) has been illegal in this country it wasn’t do with any outside occupying forces.
Those ‘freedoms,’ to me, are but poor and crude ciphers for what people really fought and died for: civil rights. Let’s not sugar-coat this one because to do so is to take for granted, and that is the worst thing we can do any day of the year. Oftentimes, the national decision to go to war has some rather less lofty humanitarian goals than it has economic goals. But political power goals don’t mean so much to the people who willingly joined up and went to the front lines.
If you asked, almost invariably the answer would come back: I did it for love of America and/or freedom.
But we cannot and must not take that freedom – which is civil rights – for granted. They are hard won, and not always guaranteed, even in the Land of the Free.
One of the single most important civil rights any person can have is the right to vote. It is the entire basis for democracy and the reason for that whole big tiff 236 years ago. Even then it took quite a while to get around to fulfilling the promise of democracy and allowing everybody to vote – it hasn’t even been 100 years since we ladies got that right.
That oft-tossed-around phrase from the 9/11 days isn’t wrong: freedom isn’t free. It requires hard work and constant dedication and diligent, judicious exercise. What that phrase does not and cannot ever be allowed to mean in America is that some freedoms have to be compromised or given up.
Freedom isn’t free. No, because with freedom comes responsibility. It is every American’s responsibility to look after one another’s freedoms. It is every American’s responsibility to make well-informed decisions and to demonstrate those decisions in the voting booths and in contact with their elected representatives.
No one has the right to take away or deny anyone else’s freedom, but we must vigilantly guard and support that right. Because some have tried, are trying, and will try. And the threat is not always and, in fact, rarely is from with-out.
So what does “Remember” mean on Memorial Day? Remember your right to vote, to learn and know, and your right to human dignity – and, just as importantly, your responsibility to uphold that dignity for others. Exercising these rights and responsibilities is the physical act of remembering and honoring the sacrifices made by those who lost their lives in the name of our freedoms.