As a kid, it was hard not to look forward to Memorial Day: A day off from school, barbeques, good weather, the community pool opening for the Summer, and did I mention we got the day off from school? As someone who today works closely with the Military, I of course now approach Memorial Day with a stronger sense of somber gratitude for those who died protecting our country’s security and national interests. Because I was long one of them though, I like to withhold judgment on those who might forget the significance of today. However, the researcher in me can’t help but think about why it might be the case that we lose touch with the purpose of Memorial Day. I submit that it has much to do with the changing relationship between society and the Military.
The truth is few of us have close, personal military connections. That statement doesn’t carry any value judgments, it is simply a fact. The transition from a draft to the all-volunteer force in 1973 fundamentally affected the relationship between society and the Military. A simple fact is that the younger you are, the less likely you are to have an immediate family member who served in the Military.
More often today, military service is akin to an inherited trait. Beyond having an impact on recruiting (which will be discussed in a later blog post, stay tuned!), this means that we as a society are less connected to those who protect our country. It also means that we’re less likely to be exposed to the significance of the sacrifices made by the few who choose to serve. Unfortunately, this means a growing emotional disconnect between the public and military members.
A Conscious Effort. The good news is that being removed from something doesn’t mean that you cannot recognize its value. Plenty of us form emotional connections to sports teams despite not personally knowing anyone who plays for them. It does mean, though, that remembrance may take a bit more of a conscious effort today than it did even 15 years ago.
In the spirit of this conscious effort and the fact that Memorial Day is so strongly associated with family, consider the following: Those who we remember on Memorial Day are defined by more than just their sacrifice. They were men and women who were driven by passion for their country, out of a desire to improve their life, or to fight for justice. They were experts, trained in highly specialized roles, possessing unique work skills and the ability to maintain composure under pressure. They were sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers, who wanted a better life for those around them. Most importantly, they were members of society. As such, recognition of the purpose of Memorial Day need not detract from the time we spend forming incredible memories with families and friends. Ultimately, to judge those who don’t fully recognize the significance of Memorial Day is to take for granted the fact that most of today’s youth don’t have family connections to the Military.
Even though you may not be related to anyone who has died fighting for our country, I hope you put a conscious effort today to think about the once intertwined nature of the Military and society and recognize the true impact the sacrifice of one can have on many.
If you have questions about the kinds of military research work that we do, please contact Megan Fischer at firstname.lastname@example.org.