Memorial Day 2010
Said Kierkegaard: “It is everyone’s opinion—and if I may be permitted to make a judgment about it, it is also my opinion—that to enter a monastery is not the highest, but by no means do I therefore believe that everyone in our day, when no one enters the monastery, is greater than the deep and earnest souls who found rest in a monastery.” (FT 100)
Many of us have long held the opinion—and if I may be permitted to make a judgment about it, it is also my opinion—that to serve one’s nation, to die for one’s country, falls far short of the highest, but by no means should we therefore believe that everyone in our day, when no one wishes to die for one’s country, is greater than the brave and courageous souls who prematurely found rest on the field of battle.
The dead—deaf and mute, as the dead are won’t to be—require neither our respect nor our attention. From an eternal perspective, there is no death in vain, nor is there any death not in vain. Contrary to what bumper-sticker patriots proclaim, there is nothing we can do to change that. To think that the essential value of life can be altered by accidental circumstances, like the shifting price of wheat or milk on the commodities market, on the one hand is a contradictio in adjecto and on the other hand flirts with blasphemy. There is not, nor could there be, any obligation to remember the dead. From the perspective of the grave, Memorial Day has no more value than Tuesday. If it has value at all, it is the value that it has for us who are still here. We meditate on the fallen not because they require our sympathy, but because we require theirs.
The American ideal—perfect equality, perfect justice, perfect freedom—is a lie, at least insofar as it is connected to the historical nation state founded on July 4th, 1776. Indeed, it may well be that all ideals, insofar as we connect them to the realm of actuality at all, are lies. We call ourselves wise, for we have caught a glimpse of the shadowy nothing that pervades all things and therefore think that we’ve seen something. We have come so far. We have surpassed our predecessors, for we no longer die for myths and superstitions. In fact, we go even further than that—we no longer die for anything at all.
The truth is that to die for a lie is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. The worst thing that can happen to a person is to die of old age.