Dying for Your Country is Tragic–But Worth Emulating


By Alex Escué Limkin

— I don’t watch much TV, but I especially don’t watch TV on Memorial Day. The constant coverage of the president and others giving speeches and laying wreaths at cemeteries irritates me.

“Let’s take a moment to remember the fallen,” they tell us. With their studied gestures, their portentousness, their stentorian voices, they tell us that giving our lives for our country is sad and tragic but also glorious and sweet. They tell our children this. They told me this.

“We’re sad these soldiers are dead—but the way they died was pretty amazing and totally worthy of emulation. We would prefer no more soldiers had to die—but if you die on the battlefield, you’ll be remembered forever as heroes.”

Memorial Day started out as Decoration Day. This name makes more sense to me. Because if you think about the target audience for decorations, it’s usually children. Think of a birthday party. And then think of the Purple Star, the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, the Gold Star. You get stars for being good, you get stars for being a hero.

On the first Decoration Day in May 1868, Gen. James A. Garfield said of the fallen: “They summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and virtue.”

Tell it to the mountains, general.

I will never lie to my sons like this. Instead, if I talk to them of war, I will tell them how unnatural it is to call upon men to kill strangers they have never met. I will tell them of the intense training they must undergo to overcome our natural revulsion to killing. I will tell them of the psychological breakdown they must endure in order to be turned into killing machines.

I will tell them of Sgt. Paul Sasse, former Special Forces soldier, wasting away in solitary confinement. I will tell them of Col. Ted Westhusing, dead by his own hand. I will tell them how down through the ages the old have made use of the young in this way, inflaming their senses with fiery rhetoric of battlefield glory.

I will wave no flag on Memorial Day. I will light no firecrackers. I will eat no hotdog. On Dying For Your Country is Hot Shit Day, when we communicate to our children the glory of death by war, I will do my best to remember how Wilfred Owen enjoined us to not believe the sham the old tell the young, that “there is nothing sweeter or more honorable than to die for your country!”

Oh, yeah? Then go first.

One thought on “Dying for Your Country is Tragic–But Worth Emulating

  1. Thank you Alex. You are one of my most favorite veterans and writers. KEEP ON!

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