[first published May 30, 2014]
by Dr. David Pence
May 30th was a day once designated to honor the war dead of the nation. It was an interruption of our normal routines – to remember in a public religious way on a specific date the fact that both our commercial productivity during the week and our familial enjoyment and church worship on the weekend were purchased by the blood of our soldiers. It was not a day dedicated to those who died in natural disasters or nursing home accidents. It was not a familial day to grieve our particular relatives.
It was a day with a specific purpose – for a nation to reflect on the blood sacrifice that forged our communal identity and insured our liberty. This time of spiritual reflection was meant to be an interruption of the daily rhythm of our lives, just as the life cycles of young men were interrupted by their sacrificial response to the unplanned threats against our country through the ages.
This is the nature of civic liturgy. Like religious acts recalling heroic sacrifice, this communal act of remembrance is meant to be formative. The public assembly bestows public gratitude and honor to encourage the living to emulate the dead. The specific deaths we remember on this day were overwhelmingly young and male. The willingness of these young men to participate in the warrior bond of civic protection was not incidental to their maleness. The American socialization strategy since our first colonial militias has been to identify masculine maturation with a willingness to bear arms for the local, state, or national group and risk death in the performance of that duty. This pattern of gender-bound duty is as ancient as circumcision and as current as male-only draft registration.
On this day we impress on young males the deadly seriousness of that honor code. The Taps we hear this day resonate with the heartfelt brotherhood known in sports teams, Boy Scouts, work crews, and local police and fire departments across our land. Patriotism is a kind of masculine ecology: a shared love of men for the habitat that feeds and shelters us. That homeland is sacralized in the burial ceremonies of those fallen in her defense. The patriot, the fatherland, a brotherhood from sea to shining sea, the sons of liberty, the band of brothers—all of these expressions evoke the inter-generational masculine fraternity of duty that forms the sacred sinews of every nation from ancient Israel to Singapore to America. Submerging the masculine public military character of this day into extended family weekends diminishes our understanding of the national brotherhood of duty which safeguards our nation. Losing a vigorous public sense of masculine protective duty has imperiled our cities, feminized our campuses, filled our prisons, and demoralized our public life in work and politics.
This denigration of the "male bond" has rippling consequences, for the male military bond is meant to serve higher bonds than itself. The sacral bonds of marriage and religious worship both depend on the protective military ethos we remember on Memorial Day. The flattening pacifism of our churches and the shrinking de-gendered selfishness of our families are eating away at the masculine character, which protects them both. This spreading defect in public masculine character robs our adolescents looking for boundaries, and our elderly and widows looking for protection. Sexual confusion among adults allows the predators a hundred unprotected alleyways, city streets, suburban strip malls and apartment buildings to ply the sex trade. In a certain way, all our children become orphans and all our women widows, without the comforting tranquility of masculine agreement.
Let us allow our family and work schedules to be interrupted. Let us once again remember May 30, Memorial Day. Let us salute that half-mast flag, and remember the duties and protective sex roles that have bound us since the beginning.