An essay for Memorial Day | Bleader

Friday, May 22, 2009

An essay for Memorial Day

Posted By on 05.22.09 at 06:16 PM

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In America the war lingers mostly in intimate, private memories. Yet countless mementos surround us if we're willing to look for them. Tinted photographs, punctured helmets, unused books of ration stamps, old combat maps smeared with dried mud -- mantels and display cases across America are filled with relics as evocative as the splinters of the True Cross. Every one of them is, or ought to be, an expression of gratitude -- gratitude for survival achieved against the odds or for a tragedy somehow endured. Every one of them preserves, however inarticulately, a piece of the vast and mysterious story of a whole world at war.

It's sort of a Memorial Day/Veterans' Day tradition for me to recommend Lee Sandlin's "Losing the War," probably my pick for the best thing that's ever appeared in the Reader. It's a very long essay, but it's a long weekend, too.

Another masterful, if very dark, piece of art for the weekend is the Drive-By Truckers' "Decoration Day" (the original name for Memorial Day). I think you'll find parallels between Sandlin's take on The Saga of Njal Burned Alive and Jason Isbell's story about the tradition of southern family feuds ("they didn't have a word for the prolongation of war long past any rational goal -- they just knew that's what always happened"). See also Jason Isbell's masterpiece "Never Gonna Change."

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