Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Best Among Us

On Memorial Day I unfurled a flag on my porch to honor the service of those who died, were wounded, or otherwise sacrificed for something greater than themselves. I do the same on the 4th of July as a token of my appreciation for the advantages of democracy. We don't have a perfect country, but its better than most of the alternatives that I can think of. Having hung the flag the other day, I surveyed the streets in four directions and saw one other flag. One flag - as far as the eye could see on the Palisades, on Memorial Day, in this corner of the nation's capitol. I don't see flags as a token of patriotism. Like the flags that fly in every military cemetery; it’s simply my family’s way of saying thank you - and remembering.

Several days later, I picked up a copy of the neighborhood paper, The Northwest Current, and was greeted with an editorial headline; "Rolling Blunder," a snarky put down of the annual Memorial Weekend tribute to veterans known as Rolling Thunder. Originally a remembrance of Vietnam era POWs and veterans, the "thunder" refers to the number of taxpayers who arrive each year on motorcycles. The complaint, apparently endorsed by the paper, concerns street closures and other inconveniences; including a "traffic nightmare" with "flags waving and motors roaring".

The author of this polemic is a reporter for the local ABC affiliate. He gets two columns of opinion space in most editions of The Current where he holds forth on every subject imaginable. Yet, I don't recall any complaints about street closures for rallies, marches, and marathons for every cause under the sun; including, most notably, a "million" man march organized by one of the nation's most noxious bigots. Hardly a month goes by in the District of Columbia without street closures for some special pleader, yet we should move the vets to "Hains Point," a place most tourists couldn't find with a map and compass. Suggesting this venue, the District’s most notorious open air drug market, adds insult to injury.

Journalists and TV networks often lament the recent decline in news readers and viewers. Yet, they seldom look to themselves or their product for an explanation. Consumers have not stopped reading or listening; they may have just stopped buying or reading slanted products that sneer at values or insult common sense. On the latter we could ask; what parade or demonstration doesn’t inconvenience someone?

Like most urban journalists, the author of “Rolling Blunder,” was probably opposed to the Vietnam War in particular; and my guess is today he would be opposed to war in general. For many like him, anti-war sentiment often morphs into a low key and patronizing contempt for servicemen and veterans. This seems to be the subtext of that recent editorial. This phenomenon, blaming the military for unpopular wars, is kin to blaming crime on cops or arson on firefighters.

Having done its best to sugar coat an insult, the “Rolling Blunder” harangue also presumes to instruct us on the difference between Memorial and Veteran's Day, as if self-evident were not a synonym for obvious. Indeed, Memorial Day commemorates those who died in battle or as Pericles, and later Lincoln, put it; “given the last full measure of devotion" to their country.

If we only preserved one holiday where we close streets, wave flags and make noise; I would choose Memorial Day. I would choose to honor the memories of those who paid so dearly to preserve the right of journalists and their editors to be small minded, self-absorbed, and insensitive to real inconvenience and true sacrifice. I would choose to preserve the minor inconveniences of Memorial Day because we need a visible reminder of the best among us so that we do not succumb to the worst.