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Selective Memory Day

28 May

Hero of WarOn Memorial Day, it’s fitting to recall, that not all Americans considered the day worth celebrating.

In its original incarnation as a product of the Civil War, Memorial Day was divisive and triumphalist, a Northern institution. If it were more widely remembered that the day began with this focus, we might be less enthusiastic about it today. After all, we have mixed feeling about having fallen into civil war in the first place. Perhaps re-purposing is central to our commemorations today.

Progressives have long been uncomfortable with the idea of a day dedicated to soldiers killed in the nation’s wars. Conflicts like James K. Polk’s Mexican War, William McKinley’s Spanish-American War, Teddy Roosevelt’s Philippines War, Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War, and George W. Bush’s Iraq War were wars of aggression, seeking territory or resources or both. No one would want to exalt these seedy episodes in American history, however much we regret the soldiers’ lives expended.

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