POSTED: 28 MAY 2007 - 4:30pm HST

Memorial Day

[Editor's Note: The following are thoughts by few friends about Memorial Day. Jonathan Jay had the idea to solicit contributions from Island Breath readers.
Below are the results to date. If you don't like one submission, check out the next.

First up is Un-Imbedded Independent Journalist Dahr Jamail. We contacted him to write a short piece for this Memorial Day. Dahr has spent much of the last several years traveling throughout the mideast - Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, and the now fractured Iraq. Most Americans only see what happens in the rest of the world exclusively through the very American corporate lens. Dahr went there and took a look - with his own eyes.

Dahr is known for his pithy, truthful and blunt style of reportage, and recently returned from several weeks in Lebabon. Visit  We thought Dahr could provide a good opportunity for us to take a small glimpse of ourselves as others see us - a view from 'outside' the Classical (corporate / imperial) media filter. We asked him how he thought the Lebanese people would view America's rosy picture of itself and our role in the world via the Memorial Day Holiday]

recent explosion in Bierut, Lebanon

Why Don't They Love Us as Much as We Do?
by Dahr Jamail on 28 May 2007

The U.S. holiday of Memorial Day for most of the Lebanese people would, today, look somewhat different if honored in that country. Once a bastion of U.S. supporters, today most in Lebanon would likely hold a Memorial Day where a remembrance of a Lebanon which existed before U.S.-involvement was honored.

Lebanese might recall the golden days of Lebanon in the 1960's and 1970's when Lebanon came to be known as the "Paris of the Mediterranean," when trade, tourism and a violence-free life were all common throughout the country.

But after U.S.-involvement in their brutal 15 year civil war, followed by unbridled U.S.-backing and cheer-leading of Israel's savage war on Lebanon last summer, and now the blatant U.S.-backing of terrorist groups like Fatah al-Islam in Palestinian refugee camps in Northern Lebanon once again spilling Lebanese blood on the street, Lebanese find it more difficult to remember what their country was like prior to U.S.-meddling in their affairs.

Presidio Cemetary in Goldengate Park, San Francisco

Memorial Daze
by James Trujillo on 28 may 2007

When first asked for my thoughts and ruminations about memorial day I questioned the point of writing about BBQ's and the kickoff of summer. What's the importance of reminiscing about the Indy 500 or Macy's White Flower Day sale? And then it dawned on me and I made the connection between the reason why I wasn't in school on that Monday so close to the end of the school year and all the Glenn Ford, Henry Fonda and John Wayne army flicks that were shown during the long weekend . Movies like "The Longest Day" or "The Sands of Iwo Jima", mostly black and white but some filmed in Technicolor, like my favorite "The Bridge on the River Kwai". Good ol' movies that made me feel patriotic and proud to be an American. Films with macho men and guns bombing the bejeezus out the Nazi and Japs; fighting for the noble cause of freedom and ending tyranny across the globe.

Now why didn't I think of the valiant sacrifices made by our boys in uniform initially? Was it because I never had a family member involved in a military campaign who paid the ultimate price so that I could remain free to watch movies, eat heartily at the BBQ and daydream of summer activities? Was it because the memories of the Vietnam War and the protests were too recent and uncomfortable for my family to acknowledge the day in any meaningful way? Because growing up in the SF Bay there were plenty of reminders about the military. From the ginormous hangers and P3 Orions at Moffett Field NAS to the rows of battleships docked in Alameda, the military was up front and center. Especially the thousand of white marble headstones that sprouted from the earth's green carpet in Daly City's Golden Gate National Cemetery. The endless sight of them is still vivid in my mind and yet celebrating Memorial Day meant fun outside with friends or family, enjoying the end of school and the beginning of real freedom, summer vacation.

Perhaps the culprit for my disconnect is the fact that, like in the daze of my youth, corporate America continues to instill the values of mass consumerism while the war machine keeps turning, and I can be comforted knowing that there is gas in my tank, a cashier ready to take my credit card and plenty of choices for the grill.

The Indianapolis Speedway on Memorial Day. Looks like the deck of an aricraft carrier, no?

Memorial Day: Napalm & Hotdogs
by Juan Wilson on 27 May 2007

Memorial Day frequently coincides with my birthday (May 28th) and is always entwined with scheduling that day. Usually we party at home on the Saturday before Memorial Day to beat the crowd. No stop and go to a crowded parking lot for me.

My fondest memories were when my kids were young and we lived along the shore of Long Island Sound. A friend and I would take the kids and go to the beach to gather steamer clams, mussels and a few oysters for a seafood stew to feed the party guests. You had to work quickly as the seven foot tide reached its ebb. A solemn remembrance of war dead was the furthest thing from our minds.

The origins of Memorial Day go back to the end of the Civil War when Decoration Day was conceived as a way to honor both Confederate and Union Soldiers who had died. The idea was to heal the wounds of war by decorating the graves of particpants of both sides of the conflict on same day. It was a balm for a torn nation. In 1888 it changed and became Memorial Day to remember all American soldiers who had died in the service of their country. That's quite a different thing than its original meaning. In 1971, in the midst of the Vietnam War, it became a national holiday.

The fact is, Memorial Day has always been an odd "holiday" to me. For a day that is meant to heal the wounds of soldiers lost in an internecine war, it has a strange way of expressing itself. Namely, driving in heavy traffic to an outdoor party setting with lots of beer and hotdogs in order to "kickoff" the summer season.

The beer, the burgers, the driving are integral aspects of Memorial Day Weekend, as is the Indianapolis 500 - A spring tailgate party with family and friends while the excitement of a deadly crackup looms over the small talk. Between the celebration of the military, the screaming racing engines, and the smell of charred beefburgers it all seems pretty nasty to me. Napalm and hotdogs.

Don't worry, the party is only starting. In just a few weeks we can celebrate July Fourth with "bombs bursting in air"... always a favorite with Americans. Shaka Awe.

This Memorial Day I'll stay at home in Hanapepe Valley to water my garden and stay off the road.

Memorial Day: Peace Gathering
by Linda Pascatore on 27 May 2007

The Memorial Day Parade was a fond childhood memory for me. I grew up in the small city of Jamestown, in Western New York. Every Memorial Day, they closed off Pendergast Avenue for the parade, a tree lined residential street leading to the town's large old Lakeview Cemetery.

Everyone came out to watch the parade, and most everyone had marched in it at one time or another. As a young child, I remember sitting on the curb, watching the parade. Later I was marching with my Girl Scout Troop, and my brother went with their Little League Team. My country cousins decorated their horses and rode with the 4-H club. Old World War I vets and Daughters of the American Revolution rode in cars draped in red, white and blue. Our Mayor marched with the City Council. Dozens of civic organizations marched and had floats. Miss Jamestown rode one, throwing candy to the children along the route. They even allowed the neighborhood kids to festoon their bikes with ribbons and streamers and ride at the end of the parade. The parade would end in the cemetery. There would be speeches and a flag ceremony in a big tent near the Soldier’s Circle, where many veterans were buried.

However, my most poignant memory of the Memorial Day Parade occurred when I was all grown up. It was during the Reagan years, during the height of the Cold War, when the world was still tottering on the brink of a Nuclear War. Carl Sagan had informed us of the dire consequences of Nuclear Winter, which would likely mean the end of the human race if even a small nuclear exchange. Everyone was fearful, but most did not want to think about the horror which could occur at any time.

I had joined with a thoughtful group of concerned women, mostly mothers and grandmothers, who had started a local WAND group. WAND stood for Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament. The organization was founded by physician Helen Caldicott, who had also started Physicians for Social Responsibility. Our group consisted of a variety of women: teachers, social workers, two doctors, a librarian, a reporter from our local paper, mothers, housewives, and many others.

We organized letter writing campaigns, set up information tables at local events, and even hosted workshops and lectures. We were trying to gently educate people about the issue, and raise awareness and consciousness.

We had even been in a very small, local parade. We ordered white WAND tee-shirts that had a Picasso Peace Dove outlined on them. We cobbled together a float. We made a paper mache model of the earth, with the motto, “Children Ask the World of Us” and a Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament banner. Our children and grandchildren had ridden the float, dressed in their dove tee-shirts and carrying white balloons, and we had marched beside it.

My cousin’s wife had seen us march in that little parade. She was the sister of a disabled vet, and she was on the Jamestown Memorial Day Parade Committee, which was run by a Council of Veteran’s organizations. She had spoken to the council, and invited WAND to take our float and march in the big Memorial Day parade. We accepted gladly, and began making preparations.

Then we hit a brick wall. About a week before the parade, when we were making the final arrangements for where we would be in the line-up, the wrong veteran noticed what WAND was about, and went to the council complaining. The Veteran’s Council withdrew their invitation for us to march in the parade.

As far as WAND knew, everyone and his brother marched in our town parade. We weren’t even aware that the Veteran’s Council hosted it before we had received their invitation. The WAND members were very upset when we were uninvited. We thought that nuclear disarmament should be a cause that anyone could get behind. We decided that someone should go and talk to the Veteran’s Council to present our case to be allowed to march in the parade.

As I talked about this issue with my family, I found an unexpected ally in my father. Dad was a World War II vet. He had lived through the horror of war, and of our country dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the devastation that followed. He said that the purpose of Memorial Day was to remember those who died, and to make sure that it never happened again. Dad was a member of all three vet’s organizations that made up the council: The Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, and the Disabled American Veterans. He volunteered to go with me and speak to the Veteran’s Council.

We went quite optimistically to the meeting. I talked about WAND, our peaceful and non-confrontational message, who we were, what our float would look like, and why we should be allowed to march with everyone else. My dad showed his vets membership cards, talked about his experience with war, and his thoughts on the purpose of Memorial Day.

They denied us, flat out, without an explanation or reason. They just said we did not belong in the parade.

WAND drafted a letter to the editor of our local paper, telling the town how we were uninvited to the parade, and announcing our alternative action, to which the public was invited. We decided to gather after the parade, in the town cemetery, around the Soldier’s Circle. We stood in silence for 15 minutes, holding our white balloons, to honor the dead and pray for an end to war. Then we spoke around the circle, allowing all to give their thoughts on the nuclear threat and hope for world peace.

Our WAND Peace Gathering on Memorial Day continued for many years. It was always well attended by a great variety of men, women and children. We always managed to get a picture and story in the town paper about our ceremony. The whole experience was very special to me, as it brought me much closer to my father. I discovered a that we shared a very basic, human horror of war and a hope for peace. That first year ceremony was my most meaningful experience of Memorial Day.

Choosing Wisely What We Remember

by Jonathan Jay on 28 May 2007

“And I come to the broad plains and spacious palaces of my memory, holding the treasure of innumerable images”

-- St. Augustine

“Man’s struggle against oppression is a struggle between memory and forgetfulness”
-- Milan Kundera

“We lost our parents, both dads are WW2 heroes. Let us never forget them and their sacrifices.” A friend said to me recently. We were talking about Memorial Day; you know that three-day weekend when sheets and towels go on sale. Today is Memorial Day 2007, and I am reflecting on memory and forgetfulness.

In this present historical moment, Colossus America stumbles backwards, blinded by terror, mislead by misleaders, howling and swatting at flies with a Global Military Empire. None of this sits well on the notion of a Democratic Republic for which we stand. Now more than ever, noble efforts and gallant goals are worth remembering. Not as fig leafs to blind us to our negative impacts on the world, but as pole stars by which to navigate, for our Republic is losing its way.

I understand Memorial Day to be a time to remember and elevate those who have fallen AND the noble efforts they strove for. Not as a sorrowful exercise, but as a means to help us prioritize our present goals and future actions. WAR as the basis for the continuation and construction of Empire, is not a gallant effort. Before we lose our way too completely, now is the time take stock, wake up, open our eyes, and re-dedicate our selves to noble goals.

Take ‘peace and freedom for all the peoples of the world.’ That sounds like a laudable endeavor we could do well to observe.The War Memorial Convention Hall
It is the largest domed structure on the island, and has for years been referred to as the "War Memorial Convention Hall”.

Towards the beginning of this year I was in Lihue, and came across a marble engraving – carved into stone - inset into the wall in the lobby just outside the main auditorium:


Curious. Why was this place ever called the WAR Memorial Convention Hall? The word does not appear anywhere in the inscription. Why honor WAR rather than the gallant efforts of those that strove for PEACE and FREEDOM for ‘all the peoples of the world’? Was a mistake made? How had this building become so completely misnamed? By focusing on WAR so narrowly, are remembering the wrong thing? Has our ability for critical thought been buried along with gallant and devoted efforts?

War is a terrible thing. It is the physical manifestation of failure. You can only have a war if there have been multiple large-scale failures - failures in foreign policy, economic failures, political failures. You name it ‘War’ comes only after all else has failed. It is never worth celebrating. Just ask anyone who has been in one. The dedicators of the Convention Hall clearly realized this. They did not mistakenly fixate on the mechanism of warfare. They had their eyes on the prize. Wisely, the dedication focuses on the intent of the Kaua’ian Veteran’s “gallant and devoted efforts to bring peace and freedom to all the peoples of the world.

Can Kaua’i better honor the memory of our loved one’s past ‘gallant efforts’? I think so. A better way to honor the original intent of the building's dedicators and those who placed their lives on the line would be to re-dedicate the Memorial Hall to it's original purpose; Peace and Freedom. Who wants to memorialize war anyway?

Duty Now For the Future

There will be future Memorial Days. Will we still be memorializing WAR from inside a War Memorial Convention Hall? Will are the steps be to correct this naming error? Is this the domain of the County Council? The Mayor’s office? The Superintendent of Parks and Recreation? Can any of them provide the leadership we need, or should we look within ourselves for this spark. Is this most appropriately a people’s movement, a petition of gathered signatures to be placed on the ballot for the people to decide. Let’s figure out how to get this done. It is a small thing, but something I think we need to do, and something that can be done. Perhaps it is our duty.

Will this magically bring peace and freedom to Iraq? No. Will it miraculously bring Kaua’i’s loved ones: our brothers and sons, sisters and daughters, coworkers, young fathers and mothers home to Kaua’i? Not likely – that will take the effort of ALL Americans. But surely, stopping the glorification and memorialization of war is one small step toward a better way of life. If we mistakenly focus on, remember, and rededicate ourselves annually to the failure-that-is-War, are we doomed to drift away from our priorities? Are we doomed to perpetual warfare? Not if we begin to remember and elevate the important things. I have heard it said that “Freedom Ain’t Free”, and I think this is true. It is also true the ‘Freedom need not be Dumb.’ Let’s get a little smarter.

I humbly ask that all who agree this Publicly–Owned County Facility should be 'respectfully re-dedicated', please spread the word to: friends, family, lovers, co-workers, county employees – Kaua’ians of all walks of life. Please help to ‘officially’ rename this building.

Wanna know a secret? There is a step you can take RIGHT NOW, but it is not a small one. You need ask or convince no other living being, but steps like these can sometimes be the hardest of all to make: Change your own mind. From this moment begin calling it the “Peace & Freedom Hall.” Join the several dozen Kaua’ians who already know this structure by this new name. There is an Amish saying, “As you travel, so shall you arrive.” It is up to each and everyone of us to begin. Let’s ‘go there’ now.

Memorial Day: What do we honor?
by Lisa Parker on 28 May 2007

According to Professor David Blight of the Yale University History Department, the first memorial day was observed in 1865 by liberated slaves at the historic race track in Charleston. The site was a former Confederate prison camp as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who had died while captive. After World War I the holiday became merged with Decoration Day - the day in which people went to decorate the graves of loved ones who had passed. Since so many passed in battles of one kind or another the meaning eventually came to be honoring the memory of those who died in military service to their country.

Looking at the state of the world now in 2007 I find a need to question what it means to honor the memory of those who have died in military service? I mean no disrespect to those memories, nor in any way to diminish the contribution of those who have died. I do need to ask, however, how many of those who are being honored were well served by the wars in which they fought? This question seems easier to answer for wars of the past - the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I and World War II. Those wars seem somehow to make sense and to have saved us from definable evils like slavery, and fascist domination. The ideas of freedom, liberation and democracy appear to have been well served in those cases. It gets more difficult to see once we get to the Vietnam War, the Gulf Wars and the War in Iraq. Things become much less clear and straightforward. The evils are less definable and the benefits less obvious.

It seems to me that without noticing we have moved from honoring the memory, courage and sacrifice of those who have died in military and our support of those who are currently in service to honoring the wars themselves. These are two very different things. It is like an illusionist has somehow subtly diverted our attention while performing his trick and in doing so kept us from seeing that an illusion is being made. While our attention is busy being focused on the deaths of our loved ones made honorable by the words freedom, democracy, justice, and patriotism we have lost sight as to what those things really mean and in doing so we are losing presence of the very things we honor in our lives.

Have we truly come to the place in our human existence where we have decided that a constant state of fear, righteous torturing, abandonnment of human rights and war is the best possible way to live our lives on this planet? Do we ever stop to ask ourselves if constant warring is really necessary? Does war truly enrich our existence as human beings living all together on this planet? Is this the only possible way to live? Have we really liberated Iraq or Afghanistan?

Is anyone in the world experiencing more freedom now than they were before 911? Is Iraq truly more democratic now that it has had an election? Are we in the US now enjoying more freedom, or a better democracy than before we went to war to preserve and expand those things? What I see is that even while we are using these words - freedom, liberty, democracy, patriotic duty - they are being replaced with a reality of fear, oppression, erosions of civil liberties and suppression of civil rights which are the very things that Memorial Day emerged from the battlefield of the Civil War to honor.

We often see those who have died serving their country as heroes.

Heroes are those who stand up for what they believe matters, for what they believe is right. Heroes are those who stand up even when they are afraid because they know it is the right thing to do. Is it necessary to be in the military to do this? Are you automatically a hero because you are in the military fighting a war? Do you have to be dead to be a hero? For me Memorial Day is about honoring the courage, sacrifice and contributions of those who have died regardless of whether they are in the military or not.

In the memory of those who have died let us also use this day as a time to reflect, to look at what is happening to those things that we believe in.

Let us use the freedom that they gave their lives for to question what is going on around us.

Dr. Martin Luther King once said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

This year I will include in my decorations those who use their freedom by refusing to be silent. Those like Dr. Martin Luther King and Ehren Watada, the First Lieutenant who in June 2006 publicly refused to deploy to Iraq for his unit's assigned rotation to Operation Iraqi Freedom because he believed the war to be illegal. I believe that the only way to preserve freedom is to use it, to exercise it by living it every day. And I believe that whether I agree with the things that someone stand's up for or not doesn't matter. What I believe in is the right and the need to stand up for one's own personal truth.

I don't believe that it is necessary to live in a constant state of war. I don't believe there is any one absolute right or wrong. For me it is only by preserving, honoring and respecting the diversity of all life that we can all truly live lives in freedom liberated from fear and oppression. No war will ever achieve that for us because it is something that lives inside each one of us. It is only when we begin to take responsibility by standing up for what matters and by choosing the ways in which we want the world to work that we will ever have freedom or liberation or democracy. This Memorial Day I will honor the courage and sacrifice of all those alive and dead who have stood up and offered themselves for what they believe in. I will honor the hero that lives within each one of us.

see also:
Island Breath: Walmart Ditches Xmas 11/17/2005
Island Breath: Thanksgiving Atonement 11/23/2005
Island Breath: Thanksgiving by R. Crumb 12/17/2004
Island Breath: A Tradition of Easter Eggs 4/11/2004

The Gobbler: First Christmas Memories 12/25/1999

hit tracker -->