During the Memorial Day festivities, much like on the 4th of July, it is easy to forget that history isn’t black and white; while we remember everyone who gave their lives in service to their country, we may also turn our attention to highly stylized myths about our country, the men who fought for its independence, and the events that eventually led to it. But we do our ancestors, our founders, and the deaths of so many a great disservice when we neglect the gray area which they witnessed.
We must remember that there is good with the bad; the soldiers who fought for our freedom were not always the most morally sound individuals. Those men who maintained peace and order during those trying times where the history of our country was not yet written often ruled over citizens in tyrannical or abusive manners. That they at times had to make questionable decisions for the greater good is often overlooked or ignored. We must remember that the notions we grew up believing about the warrior-spirit of our Continental army may have been embellished.
Finally, we also need to remember that thousands of American soldiers do not rest in graveyards, but in forgotten mass graves–a tomb to their sacrifice–at times beneath our very feet without our knowledge. Thousands more lay in graves across the world, a testament to their service far and wide.
During our Memorial Day BBQs, we should remember that it is that gray area–rather than idealism and myth–that is what is important to remember. The grittier, dirtier reality makes their sacrifices so much more important than the clean, fictional view that we would prefer–the bloodless, sterilized point of view can never deliver the harshness of battle, the emotional toil that they experienced, and the true reality of what was actually at stake.