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The Pathetic Truth About Memorial Day and How to Fix It

Thus, any model of life based on a thoroughgoing rational maximization of personal utility will ultimately prove incompatible with the nature of human beings and the fullest realization of their happiness.

Something is clearly lost when we manage all of our lives by way of standard economic analysis.

When we neglect our fallen soldiers, we become alienated from the sort of emotional and spiritual forces that inspired our forbearers to undertake the sort of self-sacrifices necessary to create and preserve the flourishing civilization that we are all beneficiaries of today.

What Can Be Done?

The very scheduling of Memorial Day on our calendar has been driven by commercial logic. For more than a century, Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30. However, in 1971, largely at the behest of various interest groups that benefit economically from extended holidays (airlines, hotels, retailers, and etc.) the celebration was moved by Congress to the last Friday of May in order to create another three-day weekend.

Even on purely economic terms, it is difficult to see how a nation that suffers from a dangerously low savings rate ultimately benefits from legislation designed to encourage more consumerism. However, savings and investment are not all that have potentially been lost.

For well over a decade, Senator Daniel Inouye tirelessly introduced legislation, supported by many groups concerned with Memorial Day, to return this day of remembrance to the traditional date on the 30th of May. This was his logic:
"Mr. President, in our effort to accommodate many Americans by making the last Monday in May, Memorial Day, we have lost sight of the significance of this day to our nation. Instead of using Memorial Day as a time to honor and reflect on the sacrifices made by Americans in combat, many Americans use the day as a celebration of the beginning of summer. My bill would restore Memorial Day to May 30 and authorize our flag to fly at half mast on that day. In addition, this legislation would authorize the President to issue a proclamation designating Memorial Day and Veterans Day as days for prayer and ceremonies honoring American veterans. This legislation would help restore the recognition our veterans deserve for the sacrifices they have made on behalf of our nation." (1999 Congressional Record, page S621).
Predictably, given the commercial interests at stake, his proposals were ignored, and nothing ever came of them.

For my own part, I doubt whether moving Memorial Day back to the 30th of May would have made that much of a difference in terms of focusing U.S. citizens on the true purpose of this day of remembrance. As I alluded to earlier, the problem is not so much the consumerism (actually, over one quarter of American's work on Memorial Day); the problem is that we have adopted a cultural mindset that does not enable us to recognize any real benefit that accrues to us from taking time and effort to honor fallen soldiers.
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