Reflections on Memorial Day

May 28, 2021

“Where have all the flowers gone? - When will we ever learn?” 

Pete Seeger wrote his famous folk song in 1955, a commemoration of soldiers who have died in battle and a lament over the futility, sorrow and seemingly eternal nature of war as part of the human condition.

Hundreds of artists have recorded the ballad since then. A circular song, its verses talk of flowers picked by girls who take husbands who become soldiers who die in battle and are buried in graveyards that eventually bloom with flowers.

Memorial Day celebrations in the United States date back to the Civil War to recognize, remember and honor the dead from that bloody conflict that took more lives than any other war in our nation’s history. But history relates that such commemorations date back to as early as 431 BC when the Greek general Pericles delivered a funeral oration after the Peloponnesian War honoring the sacrifice and valor of those who lost their lives in that conflict.

No wonder Seeger’s song repeatedly asks, “When will we ever learn?”

American flags placed over the holiday weekend in cemeteries and at monuments serve as special reminders of those who have paid the ultimate price in defense of national principles such as freedom. But when those flags are removed for another year, flags flying at half mast – nowadays more often than flags flying at full mast – will continue to remind us that we still have a long way to go to stop the cycle of violence and sorrow.

In the face of problems of this magnitude, we have two basic options: Try to keep leaning in toward resolution, or do nothing at all. Most would agree that the doing-nothing option is a useless choice.

Ultimately, the best thing we can do as citizens to honor the dead is to steadily pressure our leaders to use intelligence and vigilance, rather than sorrow-breeding violence, to address problems that eventually lead to wars.

Meanwhile, we are truly grateful to all who have given their lives to protect us and our freedom. 

  • Editorials are considered and written by Cape Gazette Editorial Board members, including Publisher Chris Rausch, Editor Jen Ellingsworth, News Editor Nick Roth and reporters Ron MacArthur and Chris Flood. 

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