In a post I haven't yet roused myself to critique, Double-D identifies the activating element of the sacred spaces among us. 'Tis ritual. Even with the priest and the congregation assembled inside the church, the assembly is incomplete without the Eucharist.
Yesterday, the United States held its annual Mass dedicated to Veterans, living and dead. I urge you to recall that what we in the US call Veterans' Day is referred elsewhere in the Anglophone world as either Remembrance Day or Armistice Day, a day to remind citizens of the horrors of the Great War, the War to End All Wars, known retrospectively as World War I. Poppies are laid out row on row outside the Tower of London, a grim reminder of the oceans of blood spilt to slake the vanity and lust of long-dead political elites. These displays of public humility constitute a solemn ritual to remind the constituency of the costs of war, specifically the war that saw the rise of mechanization and the unspeakable horrors of Better Killing Through Chemistry.
Virginia Postrel includes a chapter on the Glamour of War in her latest book. By the end of WWI, the pre-war glamour of courageous gentlemen fighting a just war against heathen enemies had largely worn thin. Both sides were threadbare, weary of sending its boys to die, choking in the cold mud. The Armistice and its remembrance bid fare thee well to the kayfabe-drenched lie that there was glory in the stubborn trenches at Ovillers-la-Boisselle. Now, it isn't that Veterans' Day is a cheery, breezy glee-filled romp, but the mood affiliation is much different. We remember the sacrifices our veterans have made, often with the rider that these sacrifices were for the common good, or to secure the blessings of liberty, a curious conceit not immediately evident in the experience all Americans. I report that my time in uniform has done precious little to stem the rise of abusive civil asset forfeiture practices, or to halt the self-evidently erroneous decision in Kelo or curb any of the other many tiny assaults against the Constitution I vowed to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic when I took my Oath of Service some 23 years ago.
Yikes. Has it really been that long? It is to sigh.
Recall your Hume. The sovereign who seeks to encrease his dominion abroad shall avail himself of whatever means he might pursue to obtain the service of the constituency. He will strip them of their luxury, he will wheedle their children, and he will ensorcel their patriots with the kayfabe of glory and honor. Armistice Day was the one day of ritual during which that the nation took to the ritual of breaking kayfabe, if only for one somber pass of the calendar. Schoolchildren recited In Flanders Fields, and the VFW sold poppies alongside their brothers-in-memory at the American Legion.
Then the tone changed in 1954.
Imagine what the year might look like if Congress would authorize separate days each year to commemorate the fallen in each of America's conflicts, to reflect on the dire toll paid on that august body's behalf by the blood and bone of America's sons and daughters. Imagine if you will, whether or not US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright might have uttered to General Colin Powell her infamous 2003 remark "What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?" in an America where we all partake in the ritual of reminding ourselves of the bloody cost of war. One day for each war. One day to scrape the veneer off the relentless glorification. One day to reflect. One day to remember.
One day to indulge justly-deserved, messily earned regret.