Monday, May 31, 2010

The Worst Possible Way to Settle an Argument

"War is cruelty. There's no use trying to reform it, the crueler it is the sooner it will be over."
~ William Tecumseh Sherman

When I was a child, Memorial Day was the day when Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, high school bands and uniformed, sash-wearing men lined up in the street outside my house. Eventually the bands began to play and the line, which seemed to contain more people than I'd ever seen together, paraded into town, down the main street and to Memorial Field, where speeches were made, music was played and tributes were paid. Whether stooped with age or not-yet-grown, everyone looked so proud. I wanted so much to be part of it, I joined the Brownie Scouts for a brief time. It was only later, during Vietnam, that I made the association with death.

"So long as there are men there will be wars."
~ Albert Einstein

Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day) was created shortly after the end of the Civil War. Waterloo, New York, is considered the holiday's birthplace because it has come together as a community to decorate the graves of soldiers with flowers every year since 1866. Above, soldiers from New York State pose with their artillery. Below, Union soldiers prepare for the Battle of Cumberland.

Memorial Day was first observed in a more official way in 1868, when General John Logan issued an order that flowers should be placed on the graves of Union soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

The photo above shows Union soldiers wounded on the first day of battle at Fredericksburg. Below, the bodies of Confederate soldiers collected for burial after the battle of Spottsylvania.

“Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin they think of firelit homes, clean beds, and wives.”
~ Siegfried Sassoon 

Siegried Sassoon, the British poet, knew whereof he spoke. He served bravely in the trenches in World War I. He saw friends die, was wounded himself and refused to return to battle after his convalescence because, as he wrote to his commanding officer, "I believe that the war upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest." It has often been observed that politicians start wars and soldiers finish them; politicians also extend them.

Today's post is my puny tribute to all the brave soldiers, living and dead. As William Makepeace Thackeray wrote, “Bravery never goes out of fashion.”

  • The Civil War photos above, and many, many more, are part of the Library of Congress's online Civil War Archive. You can view the photos here
  • For wonderful photos of today's U.S. Military, go to this website and see what military members are posting on Flickr.
  • The wonderful photo of Arlington National Cemetery above was found on this Flickr photostream. I hope the gifted photographer, known only as Stuck in Customs, doesn't mind.


  1. To paraphrase Linus in "A Charlie Brown Christmas," that's what Memorial Day is all about. Great post.