By Jonathan Lounds
Every year millions of Americans look forward to and make plans for the long Memorial Day weekend. It has become the unofficial beginning of summer, and for Indianapolis it is the weekend of the big race, the Indy 500. With all of the festivities surrounding us, it is easy to go the entire weekend without reflecting on its meaning and history. Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and emerged after the end of America’s bloodiest war, the Civil War. In 1971, Decoration Day was changed to Memorial Day, and although the name changed, the meaning did not. The day was a time for communities across the country to come together and pay tribute to fallen soldiers by decorating their graves. In Indianapolis, the first Decoration Day was held on May 30th of 1868 at the Crown Hill National Cemetery where both Union soldiers and Confederate POWs are buried.
The somberness of Memorial Day to the American population has changed since the Civil War. This is likely a result of the sharp decrease in battle deaths since Memorial Day began, but it is also a result of what I describe as the “lost home front.” Throughout American history, the home front was seen as crucial to winning the wars. Almost every home in America was affected in some way by the bloodshed and sacrifice of the war. And even if in immediate family member or friend wasn’t serving, there was always the risk of them being drafted. War was a collective effort, but that has changed. Less than 1% of the American population has served in the longest running military conflicts in American history, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This small minority of service members and their families have carried the weight of the nation on their shoulders and have suffered the psychological and physical wounds of war.
It is a blessing that only a small percentage of our population has to experience the horrors
of war. War destroys lives, and I would not wish the experience of combat on anyone. But we need to revive the “home front”; because as a country, we send our young men and women to fight and die in wars without it directly affecting many of our homes. This apathy towards the politics and reality of war is harmful to our civic lives, and it increases the estrangement between the military and public. Every citizen should feel they have a stake in the military conflicts. One of the first steps in doing this is brining back the spirit of Memorial Day and remember the lives that have been lost in our wars.
Jonathan Lounds is an Afghanistan combat veteran who served as a team leader in the Army’s 101st Airborne. He completed is undergrad at IUPUI and is now working on his MPA with a concentration in policy analysis and preparing begin law school at IU McKinney in the fall.