Memories of Valor
Freddie DeBoer defends Chris Hayes’s willingness to judge soldiers as individuals rather than give them blanket praise. His thesis: “there is no such thing as praise that does not recognize the individual character of the person being praised.” This is exactly right. You can praise individual people. You can praise their conduct. You can’t praise an abstraction, not without perverting one’s praise into “homogeneous, bland affirmation.”
Which brings me to Memorial Day. Like any holiday, we can celebrate it well or poorly, in ways appropriate or ways dishonorable. The line of difference rests on Freddie’s dictum. Do we remember and celebrate individual men and women of valor? Do we seek to emulate their personal virtues? Do we honor their sacrifices? Or do we make the day a liturgy of nationalism, a memento of the glorified state, a litany of cheap slogans and propaganda?
Memorial Day may be a secular holy day, a day centered on the human rather than the divine, but for that it needn’t be an idolatrous occasion. Memorial Day reminds me of All Souls Day, a deeply personal and sacred day of remembrance. It is a day to love those who loved, a moment to cherish those who sacrificed, a break to observe meritorious deeds, a time to name names with honor, prayers and tears.