Traditional Memorial Day is martial in nature, with marching bands and veterans parading down flag-festooned streets as crowds cheer. Media incessantly reminds us to remember sacrifices of all the brave people who have defended our way of life. Slogans such as “freedom is not free” resound through the air.
I respect the military in our important wars. Those who fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II did not do so for pensions and fast track into police forces later. They were not planning a career. They volunteered _ or were forcibly inducted _ to risk their lives and health into enemy fire and constant tension and disease. What they did actually changed the way we live now. Some of our other wars _ Mexican, Spanish-American, Korean, Vietnamese, Gulf _ have been of significantly less consequence. And our current volunteer army is not much like our troops who fought the Nazi’s and Japanese.
This year is different. Parades are banned. Tiny gatherings are allowed at cemeteries which hold the remains of heroes gone. Perhaps a few of us rethink who our current heroes are or should be _ what occupations and sacrifices are now most important to our way of life. I wonder moreover if this particular holiday might be remembered as the end of a bygone era from a not too distant, totally changed, future. Economic and social traditions and bonds are being stretched to and possibly beyond the breaking point.
Eras sneak up on you, with assumptions and an inertia that claims “this is how it is.” And yet, history proves that eras can end, sometimes slowly, sometimes in a blink. The American, French, Russian, Chinese revolutions took only a few years. The Medieval, Renaissance, Industrial, and Computer took longer. Today, of course, everything runs at warp speed, and possibly the next huge paradigm shifts in culture and civilization will do so as well. Much can happen in just one year.
Our current era, however many decades or centuries it has lasted, has been one of scientific discovery, globalization of nature and culture, and massive population growth, some of it accompanied by more goods available. There has also been severe consolidation of wealth, fragmentation of cultural goals into various fierce ideologies, and massive degradation of the environment. Reporting of such changes has been practically instantaneous. Above all, it has been an era dominated by the myth of American exceptionalism and Western capitalistic ideology. Perhaps this is the moment when the world suddenly realizes, once more, that the emperor has no clothes.
No matter what historians claim about historic inevitability, nobody in the middle of a revolution can predict its outcome and effects. That has not stopped modern prognosticators who claim work as we have known it will mutate and vanish, for example. Visionaries conjure vast economic and social upheavals, some apocalyptic. I (optimistically) think the only “safe” option here is to plan on the familiar world never quite returning, and possibly being shockingly unrecognizable, in less than five years.
After that, those who have time and energy to remember will no doubt gather at the future equivalent of a Memorial Day. Toasts will be raised, the world as it once was nostalgically recalled, and (with luck) some kind of celebration held to cheer what came after.