Monday, May 30, 2011

The Fallacy of Memorial Day

There's more than one reason why I don't buy into celebrating Memorial Day. First of all, I think the vast majority of people that celebrate (not necessarily the "three-day-weekender" celebration or the "50%-off-all-furniture-in-the-store" celebration) do so with false sincerity. Most of them seem to want to appear to be sincere in there appreciation, but don't think about it the other 364 days of the year.

Secondly, and more obnoxiously for me, is we artificially inflate the status of servicepeople in our nation compared to other professions. Before you get mad, let me begin by saying none of what's about to follow is designed to belittle or degrade the sacrifice of our armed services. They make incredible sacrifices and I would never want to marginalize that. What follows is, simply, an attempt to give perspective.

Although members of the armed services are given food, housing, college funding, and health care in addition to a paycheck, we act as if they are categorically under-appreciated. Really? In what other profession--except maybe as a Senator--would you get such benefits?

If you're still not following me, think about it this way: what are police and firefighters paid? About $49,000 a year for police and $41,000 for firefighters. While servicemembers may not bring home that much, it's hard to imagine their pay plus their additional benefits don't amount to more than police and firefighters, who don't get those same perks.

Still not with me? Okay, fine. People are quick to deride police that have "desk jobs" because they aren't on the streets. Well, what do you people think the majority of military jobs are? Desk jobs. There are more cooks, painters, and office jockeys than infantrymen, but they're all entitled to wear the uniform and get the praise. How is this double standard fair?

Answer: it isn't. The fact is that the average police officer and firefighter is in real danger every day they go to work, whether in a standoff or directing traffic, or fighting a fire. Thousands of police officers and firefighters die in the line of duty every year. Why do we not celebrate their sacrifices?

There are probably two reasons. First of all, it's become acceptable in our society to villainize police as bad guys and scumbags. There are bad apples in every profession, but allowing those people to typecast the entire profession is ludicrous. We don't villainize all military members after a few of them rape and murder innocent civilians, or go crazy and shoot their comrades. Police and firefighters should be no different.

Secondly, we are afraid to criticize members of the armed services. If a Marine rapes and kills a woman and her children in a war zone, we say, "What a shame, the pressure must've gotten to him," and that's the end of it. But if a cop pulls you over and gives you a ticket, all cops are scumbags. Just the same, there's a culture that it's unacceptable to not treat the military as demi-gods. They are human beings just like you and me. We need to stop pretending they are angels doing God's work with assault rifles and missiles.

So until we start celebrating our police and firefighters and stop pretending like every person with a military uniform is an infallible Captain America, I won't be satisfied. I know it's not a popular position to take, but I don't care. It's the right position to take.

Happy Memorial Day.