Remember the dead
“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead,” the English writer G.K. Chesterton wrote in his 1908 book “Orthodoxy.” “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”
Granted, we who are walking about do have the responsibility to make the decisions of our time, but Chesterton reminds us that it is wise to look for advice from those who have gone before us.
The advice of those who made sacrifices to serve their nation and their neighbors is especially valuable.
Monday, Memorial Day, is our day of the dead in the United States of America. As Latin American people do on their Dia de Muertos, please make sure to keep in mind those who have died, even as you enjoy the company of family and friends this long weekend.
On this holiday, we remember especially the military dead.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was started specifically to commemorate soldiers who died in the Civil War. Americans slaughtered hundreds of thousands of each other between 1861 and 1865. How can we not, at least once a year, turn our minds to that horror and to resolve that we will never let it happen again.
Especially in these times. The political strife that divides this nation is so bad that we couldn’t even come together to fight off a global pandemic. Hopefully people wisen up and put their differences aside before it’s too late.
But Memorial Day isn’t just about the Civil War. It was broadened long ago. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says on its website that Memorial Day “commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service.”
There have been many of those. From 1775 to present, more than 1.35 million American military members have died in war, with almost half of those being in combat. That’s not counting civilian deaths and military members who died outside of war.
But while you’re thinking of all those people, there’s nothing wrong with also remembering others who have died. They could be veterans who died after their military service ended, or those who served others in other ways.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, at a press conference Wednesday, mentioned that it would be good to also remember essential workers who died of COVID-19 during this past pandemic year. That comment drew some blowback; our region’s Democratic Assemblyman Billy Jones said the state should develop a new day to mark COVID victims and not take away from the military dead. Jones is right — we should designate a new day, since both groups deserve their own attention — but the governor’s sentiment is right as well. Essential workers who, like soliders, served their neighbors and died of this disease deserve our remembrance. You can’t stop people from remembering whichever dead are important to them on Memorial Day, and what good does it do to criticize people for doing so?
After all, nearly 600,000 Americans (3.5 million worldwide) have died of COVID-19, close to the 675,000 Americans (more than 50 million worldwide) who died of the 1918 flu.
We Saranac Lakers might also remind people that tuberculosis, which this village was established to cure, still kills roughly 1.5 million people EVERY YEAR worldwide — more than all Americans who have ever died in all wars combined.
So many have fallen. Let’s remember both the joy of their lives and the pain of their deaths. Let’s tell their stories. Let’s also work and pray for our nation to be wise, good and brave going forward, to shun war in the future — or, if it is absolutely unavoidable, to fight honestly and justly with all the best character inside us.
Of course people have strong feelings and opinions about something as critical as war, but Memorial Day is a time to set those aside, come together and simply remember.