Friday, May 23, 2008

Other communities may downplay Memorial Day hoopla, but we hype it in Indy

EYES ON INDY THIS WEEKEND. Living in Indianapolis, where on Memorial weekend the Indianapolis 500 is run, the massive 500 Festival Parade is conducted, and where there are more prominent war memorials than in any other U. S. city, we get a full dose of Memorial remembrance--and then some. It's in your face, really. This town pulls out all the stops for Memorial weekend. With the eyes of the nation (and much of the world, some like to think) on Indianapolis on Sunday's "Greatest Spectacle in Racing," there's a lot of Memorial Day pageantry and patriotic fervor to spread around.

MILITARY PRESENCE MAKES A DISTINCT IMPRESSION. Memorial weekend has a particularly distinctive military flare in Indy's annual festivities. Military power is prominent at all our big events. Military bands march in the parade. Spectators are given American flags to wave as regiments of troops march by. Military hardware is on prominent display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and other venues. And there is a bone-rattling fly-over of fighter jets at the singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" before the race begins. In the eyes of a child, a distinct impression will be made: Memorial Day is about recognizing military might and honoring those who fight for us. A secondary assumption will be implanted: this is the way it's always been and this is the way it always must be to preserve and defend freedom and democracy.

CROSSING THE LINE. Speeches and public prayers at the 500 and other events this weekend will be laced with military references. God, guns, and guts will together be praised. The line that separates memorializing our war dead from glorifying war will not only be repeatedly and uncritically crossed, it will hardly be recognized as necessary or legitimate. Most folks will care more about how their bratwurst is grilled and the average speed of the race winner than about the morphing of the historic purpose of Memorial Day into a general glorification of military might and war as necessary, inevitable, and synonymous with American patriotism. Very few will visit a war memorial or mark a grave. I'm pretty sure such a scenario is not what General John Logan or Ms. Moina Michael had in mind. I wonder if we will ever get back to decorating graves and buying poppies? I hope we do. I believe we can.

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