Dying for democracy

The speaker at a Memorial Day event made the occasion shockingly partisan and political. I responded with a letter-to-the-editor of the local newspaper.

Below is a letter-to-the-editor that I wrote which was published in this week’s Hudson, Wisconsin Star-Observer:

Memorial Day skiesDear Editor,

My wife Katie and I have been attending the Memorial Day celebration at Willow River Cemetery for several years. This year, we were made to feel unwelcome and we won’t attend again.

The event started well enough. We put our hands over our hearts and sang the “Star-Spangled Banner.” We stood solemnly as a prayer for the war dead was offered. Then the keynote speaker took the stage, a young man who had served a tour of duty in Iraq with the Wisconsin National Guard.

His remarks started off well enough, but soon descended into the sort of divisive, partisan language one finds on 24-hour cable news channels. He proclaimed that, to thank veterans, we should stand against health care reform and for the idea that we are a Christian nation.

At that point, I walked away. I strolled through the cemetery on that beautiful summer morning, admiring the bright flags flying over many graves, thinking of the many who have fought, and the many who have died. For a while, I could still hear the speaker’s voice, but not his words. Even unable to make out what he was saying, it sounded just as empty.

I came back to the ceremony in time to see the Honor Guard of veterans stand and deliver the 21-gun salute. I thought of my father who served in the Navy, of Katie and my grandfathers, who joined up during World War II, and of a good friend who will leave for the war in Afghanistan this winter.

The speaker’s words were of politics, not of memorial. It assigned political ideology to thousands of dead heroes, who sacrificed their lives for any number of reasons. Chief among those reasons was surely the ideal of democracy. His words cheapened their loss and the day, and sought out the things that divide us on a day we should all stand together.

Greg Seitz
Maplewood, MN

– “Disliked Memorial Day speech,” June 4, 2010

3 replies on “Dying for democracy”

Very well written, Greg, (although I’m embarrassed to have been included among WWII, or any other war, soldiers. What I did just wasn’t the same). I find it hard to believe someone would use that occasion to preach ideology. The day goes far beyond that. For shame.

Dad – I think mentioning your time in the Navy was appropriate, because it speaks to the great diversity of people who serve and have served–even if only for a short time–and the multitudes of motivations that bring them to it and the experiences they had. Anyway, I’m glad you thought it was well-written. Just taking after my old man again, apparently.

How unfortunate that any chance to speak publicly can be used as a means to gain political ends. I wonder if the young man speaking even realized how he cheapened such a timeless and reverent moment with statements issues relating only to the here and now and of relatively insignificant value compared to something so profound as a war memorial.

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