by liberal japonicus
While the main action probably centers around the observations of Chris Hayes, (google news here), I was in the wikipedia page about Memorial Day and thinking about some questions of national culture, which are below the fold
One thing is that the notion of a nation mourning seems to be an Anglo-American feature, with the corresponding day in the UK and the Commonwealth as Remembrance Day, which is celebrated on November 11th, corresponding to the Armistice of WWI. (Australia and New Zealand have developed a parallel day called ANZAC Day)
I may be wrong, I only lived in France for a year, but I don't think that the French Jour du souvenir has quite the impact that the Anglo-American celebrations have, taking Remembrance Day and Memorial Day as facets of the same collective urge. (In Russia, a country which might have a similar claim to developing such public day of remembrance after WWII, the equivalent holiday, Protector of the Motherland Day, seems to have undergone some interesting twists)
Here in Japan, there is no day of remembrance, but Buddhism requires a serious commitment to memory when people die, with basically three sets of funeral rites. The first is a series of daily and monthly rituals tied to the day of passing. (7 days, 49 days and 100 days are common, but there are other variations). In addition, the family sends out a special New Year's card asking that people not send them New Year's cards for that year.
Then there are rites held according to the calendar. where the family visits to the grave site at the hometown during a holiday called Obon (which has echoes of our Halloween, in that the Obon festival is supposed to be the time when the spirits of the dead return to their families).
Finally, special festivals are organized on the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 10th year and then on specific years up til either 39 years after or 50 years after. For this reason, in the 80's, there were a number of stories covering families going either to Southeast Asia or South Pacific islands for these types of evens.
I think all of this should be seen as a commitment to the memory of person who has passed away, and that is what I presume all funeral rites are somehow related to.If that is true, I think it gives us some insight to the special place of Memorial Day in the US and Remembrance Day in the UK and Canada and ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand. The US Memorial Day has its origins in the Civil War, while Remembrance Day and ANZAC Day have their origins in WWI and it seems to me that both of those days are because the cultures were overwhelmed by the number of dead, such that shifting the burden to having a nation remember rather than each individual family do was why these days are such institutions.
So the point I'd like to suggest on this holiday is not that you have to think of servicemen and women who gave their lives, or to kick back against that notion, but to realize that these are days where the private dealings with grief, the mourning that is traditionally kept within the family, yield to circumstances that break down that fenced in measure of grief. Though it may be part of human nature to celebrate martial heroism in some way, the need to have a day like this is in part because unnatural to have so many young people taken out of the community.