Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Day 324 of 365: We Can Not Hallow

There are two staples to every visit to Washington DC (on top of, y'know, the 4 other staples): the Lincoln Memorial and the Arlington National Cemetery.

Engraved on the left side of the Lincoln Memorial is the Gettysburg Address. I couldn't help but find a few ironies when reading over the words of the famous speech. The most noticeable: "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." And for obvious reasons.

The other? "We can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. [...] It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

(I assure you long quotations isn't my way of cheating out an entry).

I take that passage as saying that we cannot treat an area of war as a fetish while ignoring why these men died and the task left for everyone else. And I found that to be a very interesting passage, especially given the time we are in, but I couldn't figure out exactly how to put how I felt into words.

And then I watched a man sit on the bench dedicated to those lost in the Korean War at the Arlington National Cemetery and scarf potato chips into his pie hole.

It wasn't until I noticed the constant signage, reminding people that the cemetery is a place of reverence and respect -- not a park where you can have picnics and act up -- that I really could put into words how ironic Lincoln's words are in comparison to the present day. I needed to see how people act at the Arlington National Cemetery, how people behaved in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to have my concrete example of how we do the exact opposite now.

Because what do we do after times of tragedy? We make the ground sacred. But we do way more than that: we fetishize it. It becomes a place you must go to -- compelled for the same reasons people have to visit that pawn shop in Vegas that they saw on TV -- to take pictures and say that you've been there, as if the land itself holds inherent value. And yet, we have people who take selfies by John F Kennedy's gravesite. We have people stuffing food in their faces when the signs clearly say no food. We have rangers who have to constantly remind people to show some respect.

To these people, there is no difference walking past rows of men who died in the Vietnam war and walking past stars on Hollywood Boulevard. They do not take a moment to think about not just the great sacrifice, but what their sacrifices mean to the living, and the obligations we have to each other in light of it. Politicians are guilty of this too -- possibly even more guilty, since they are the ones in power.

I'm sure this would be a lot more eloquent if it were not 11:30 at night and this were not a 365 blog. And maybe I'll return back to it (the same way I returned back to my girls/women thought). But it is really saying something when people will pose by a countless number of little white tombstones because it will make a good Facebook profile picture, all the while turning a blind eye to the things that really matter.

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