Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Garrison Keillor, George Orwell, and Memorial Day

I sometimes marvel how Garrison Keillor manages to combine homespun humor and sophistication. Some might object to calling the Prairie Home Companion host sophisticated, but in my book if you write for The New Yorker you're sophisticated. Heck, if you subscribe to The New Yorker you're pretty sophisticated.

On his May 28 Prairie Home Companion, Keillor talked about Memorial Day and made a suprising point, citing George Orwell, who he identifed as a socialist.

Here's my transcription

Memorial Day. You should find yourself a Memorial Day celebration wherever you are and go off to it. This is an important holiday. This is the time when all Americans are united . Republicans, Democrats Greens, monarchists and Socialists we are all united remembering what George Orwell said. He was a socialist. What he said was so true. “We sleep safely at night because we know that rough men are prepared in the night to visit acts of violence upon those who would harm us. “

If you’ve ever flown at night over this great county, you know enormous, how vulnerable it is, all those cities stretched out, all of those lights. We’re safe because people love this country and have chosen to defend this country over the years . We all know that. All of us know that.. And all of us can honor those people on Monday.
[Here's the segment starting at about 8:45. I got an error message using Real Player, but it worked anyway, so don't give up. Here the link for the entire May 28 show. It's segment five.]

Keillor want on to urge his listeners to be part of a Memorial Day celebration ("look for a cemetery") and celebrated American patriotic songs. ("My country 'Tis of Thee") is his daughter's favorite, Keillor said.

In contrast to Keillor's appreciation of our traditions and his linking to their progressive essence, I think some Wichita activists come off as "tone deaf."

Joe Rodriguez reported in Saturday's Wichita Eagle
Three groups will promote peace Monday not by demonstrating or hearing speeches but by picnicking and listening to music.

The Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas, People of Faith for Peace and Inter-Faith Ministries will host their first Peace Picnic from noon to 3 p.m. at the gazebo in Central Riverside Park.

"We're not trying to drive an issue home to anybody," said Horace Santry, director of the Peace and Social Justice Center.

"We want to celebrate the prospects for peace, and Memorial Day seemed to be an appropriate day to do that, given the focus on those who have died, and a lot of them in the pursuit of peace."
This seems to me to be well-intentioned, but off the mark.

A celebration of the prospects for peace sounds like a good idea, but Memorial Day is the wrong day.

First, poaching on established holidays never really works. There was, for instance, something artificial about the attempts by American right-wingers to counter May Day with "Americanization Day." "Loyalty Day," and "Law Day." To take another example, Holocaust Memerial Day should be about remembering the Nazi genocide of European Jewry. It should not be watered down in a generic or all encompassing memorial of every people who have suffered genocide or oppression. the Armenian, Rawandans, and others deserve their own remembrance.

Memorial Day is not really about those "who have died." It is about those who have sacrificed in battle for noble ends. The History Channel
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers. On May 5, 1868, Logan declared in General Order No. 11 that:

The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.
Now here's the real clinker. The "peace picnic" ended at 3:00 PM which is exactly the time set by law and tradition for a moment of remembrance for those who gave their lives in the country's war.

For many decades, many Southerners refused to paricipate in Decoration/Memorial Day. Today, sadly, some progressives are alienated from America's national holidays.

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