For Memorial Day: A Remembrance
There are many ways to remember those who served on Memorial Day, but perhaps it’s best to focus on something specific. When looking down the line of graves and the endless tales of death, bravery and sacrifice, it’s almost too much for the American mind to comprehend everything. From the fields of Saratoga, to the mass graves of Gettysburg and Antietam, onward to the jungles and deserts that unmade “The American Century,” what are we to think of it all. And if we can’t, what should we focus on?
Not everyone is into history, and neither should they feel obligated to be. Still, many Americans’ ignorance of the Second World War is rather pitiful. Though on the other hand, maybe it’s understandable. A few submarine raids aside, the American homeland was mostly untouched. And unlike The United Kingdom and the Soviet Republics, the war lacks the existential element that defines the modern British and Russian national identities. Still, roughly 407,000 American soldiers died during the war, along with 12,000 civilians. For a country who’s territory was not invaded by its neighbors, I’d say that’s a sacrifice worth accounting for. And within those civilian deaths are about 9,500 members of the merchant marine.
From this, we can see that the character of our involvement in the war shows in the casualty figures. We may not have had Britain’s “Finest Hour” or the absolutely tremendous human sacrifice of the Soviet Union, but we did send the USSR about “427,284 trucks, 13,303 combat vehicles, 35,170 motorcycles, 2,328 ordnance service vehicles, 2,670,371 tons of petroleum products (gasoline and oil), 4,478,116 tons of foodstuffs (canned meats, sugar, flour, salt, etc.), 1,900 steam locomotives, 66 Diesel locomotives, 9,920 flat cars, 1,000 dump cars, 120 tank cars, and 35 heavy machinery cars.”
1,900 steam locomotives! No wonder the war got us out of the depression.
But most Americans don’t know this. At best, some Americans know about Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Iwo Jima, the Atomic Bomb…the end. We won, that’s it, end of story. Something like this. Why is that? I know it’s tough to fit a comprehensive view of the war into a history curriculum, but somewhere between the anti-bullying seminars, state-mandated standardized tests, and probably a test re-take the teacher was shamed into giving the class, might there be some time for Kasserine Pass, Monte Cassino, and especially- the Battle of the Bulge…the largest pitched battle the US ever fought?
Anyway, though it’s an American holiday, most people understand that war is indeed a global tragedy. And with its unbelievable loss of life, the Second World War is the ultimate tragedy. But it’s also the ultimate subject, though an understanding of it is impossible without a study of the summer of 1914 as well. For anyone interested in a good first step in gaining that understanding, I direct you to the BBC’s unrivaled, The World At War, voiced by none other than Lawrence Olivier (“Larry”). For today, it makes sense to focus on the end, and what we all need to remember on a day like this:
I encourage you to watch the entire series.
Don’t get me wrong, I like BBQ just as much as any American, but don’t forget to take a moment to remember why you took the grill out today (after probably sleeping through the parade).