Today was Memorial Day, and it rained. This rarely happens. We showed up when the seaside ceremony was already in full swing. This is for the navy, I imagine. A wreath is thrown into the water from the back of a motor boat by a uniformed man. The wreath is attached to a thin white string. I guess this is to fish it out of the water afterwards when everyone is gone, and, hopefully, give it to someone to hang on their door. I am sure in the past the wreath was simply tossed into the water and then left to drift wherever the current took it. But the environmental police must have put a stop to that. It is still a ritual and it is the ritual that counts, but I liked that there was an unscripted part to the ritual.

Every year I sit (with occasional standing) through the ceremony which after the seaside part is done at the cemetery, where Axel’s ancestors lie as well. We had spiffed up the graves of his grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and now also one niece, with geraniums.

This is our personal (pre-)memorial day ritual. When we are done with the planting we take a little rest on Grampy, Grammy and Ester’s’s grave and drink a toast to all. We thank Penny and Herman for life given to us and then we dribble a little bit of vodka over the grave stones. Axel’s grandparents were teetotalers but their offspring were decidedly not and so we hope the elders don’t mind this little bit of vodka.

This year’s ceremony was held at the legion with major parts left out because of the inclement weather. The master of ceremony told us to imagine the parts of the program that couldn’t be done indoors, like the salvos, the marching, the school band and the taps. As a result everything was done in no time. We shook hands with some folks and I had to ask Axel, who’s that and who’s that? I got introduced, as I am always on this day, to the same people again. I can never remember their names or their faces.

And then I get to vent to Axel, also a ritual because I do it every year, about the glorification of war and the death of our men (and now women) in uniform. I do understand the rituals and the commemoration – thinking of people who died in uniform, and I like the small town community feel, but I could do without the military flavor and the presence of all these uniforms.

What bothers me in particular is the idea that they died for an ideal. This may have been true for WWII but I can’t find the noble goals in all the other war that came afterwards.  I hear people say that those who died, died for the ‘American flag and everything it stands for.’

To me, all those who died (this includes the enemy as well who were alegedly just as patriotic and fighting for their own noble goal) did so because of the psychodynamics of their leadership, the ones who waged the wars; those few men at the top, all driven, in one way or another by childhood traumas, egos under assault, hurt pride and having a surfeit of testosterone.

What were we fighting for in Vietnam, exactly? Having just been there and seen the particular flavor of communism that allows Vietnam to sign the biggest trade deal ever with America, one cannot help wonder what all the fuss was about, a ‘fuss’ that wreaked havoc, both here and there. Why? Because a beloved American president figured it was better to stay put in that part of the world to uphold his image of being tough on communism until after his hoped for re-election. But he didn’t live to see the day, and then everything spiraled out of control. I firmly believe that our messes are for the most part self-inflicted; this is true for individuals and the spheres they govern, whether families or whole countries. Just watch Trump.

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May 2016
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