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May 30, 2005

The Memorial Day File


I’m sure I’m not the only one who does a double take whenever a politician or a broadcaster mentions that we are “at war.”

I understand the President is at war.  The military is at war.  Certain military towns and military families are at war.  Defense contractors are at war.  For others of us though, this “war time” Memorial Day is indicated only by such signs as the NYT Magazine  cover story about a website for mothers with children fighting in Iraq. 

This is an AP photo that YahooNews posted earlier this week in commemoration of Memorial Day.  Taken by Denis Poroy (whose work has previously appeared on the BAG), this shot shows a Marine Corp Corporal and his wife looking back at a makeshift memorial on the beach in Oceanside, California.

If you didn’t know these folks were military, or that Oceanside was a military town, or that this was a photo from the file, you might think this image signified a greater public awareness of the war we’re in.  The reality, though, is that beyond towns like Oceanside, most people will mark this day without reflection, and with a much more conventional use of the beer cup.

(image: Denis Poroy/AP in YahooNews)

  • Realpolitik

    Q: Why do I feel nothing about this photo nor care about anyone serving or dead or wounded from the Iraq fiasco?
    A: Because BushCo. has been waging a nonstop war against the reality-based people of the United States since Election Day 2000, and hundreds of thousands more reality-based people will die because of this coup d’etat.
    As for BushCo supporters, let them drown and meet their little gods: Spite, Racism, Greed, and Sadism.

  • MadMustard

    My reaction to this photograph is the same now as it was before learning of its context.
    We trivialize the meaning of Memorial Day and the sacrifices being made thousands of miles away. It’s like saying, “we did our part, we put crosses in the sand… now let’s go catch that wave!” While in countless other locations, the streak is sizzling and the beer is getting cold.
    It’s really nothing new. All those gleaming white crosses arranged on beautifully manicured grounds across this country or on foreign fields are not all that different from this simple beach memorial. They’re all feeble attempts to give tribute to the memory of those taken from life because of the folly of other men. Sadly, our pitiful efforts to give honor to them are never as great as their sacrifices for us.
    Strongly opinionated elitists on both the left and the right see our troops as chits to be bargained for political advantage. They should all be damned for their callous calculations. Our service men and women – mostly from the middle and lower class – pay the price for the recklessness of these wealthy oligarchs. It has always been that way, just more starkly now.
    To pursue tax cuts, sweetheart deals and grand geopolitical stratagems while asking for sacrifice from only one segment of society creates an unbalanced ledger. In their youth these men found other priorities when their service was needed and now claim the wisdom to define sacrifice and who should make it. They have always been the fortunate sons.
    All of us among the living are the truly fortunate ones. God Bless all the men and women who are sacrificing today.
    Come home soon!

  • jefrog

    After reading Sunday’s Doonesbury (, I checked out the Blowback it received (, expecting someone to complain about the political use of the names of the fallen. And there was one such comment, but not from the side of the aisle I’d expect. Moreover, everyone with some military connection (presently serving, retired from service, related to one of the aforementioned groups) who wrote in did so in thanks. Crosses and beer cups in the sand are not ideal, but it seems that those with the most chance of being so honored are happy to be memorialized in whatever way possible. Something is better than nothing: something to remember, and not just today.

  • hionia

    When I first saw that picture I thought
    that the beer caps next to the mini crosses
    were symbolizing the barrels of oil for
    which all these young women and men in uniform
    have been sent to their deaths

  • kellie

    Over the weekend, my boyfriend’s six-year old son asked what Memorial Day was. I told him that it was a day of national mourning, to remember the people who fought bold battles and lost their lives so that we could have freedom from tyranny, but that a lot of people view the day as the offical start of summer. This picture captures both those thoughts.

  • troy

    The picture seems to me to be a pointed reminder that we have lost track of what Memorial Day is supposed to be. Even in the midst of a war, even within sight of a makeshift memorial, Memorial Day is still nothing more than a day for beach parties and drinking beer from a Dixie cup.

  • prufrock

    Here’s what struck me about this photo:
    -the manner in which the surfers symbolize wholesome American-ness. Surfing is a good-clean-fun Americana event, especially with middle class white couples in matching wet suits and parallel surfboards. (How posed is this? So stylized, like a Herb Ritts portrait.) So the crosses (symbolizing memory of the fallen blah blah blah) exist in the context of American leisure.
    -their backs are to the crosses, and they are looking away from them. In other words, let’s recognize and observe their deaths, but let’s not stare at them or actually mourn them (or show actual photos of their caskets, say). Look over your shoulder, sigh whistfully, and get on with enjoying life. The crosses are out of focus, so we don’t focus on them too much either.
    I’m in the UK, where dead servicemen’s families are threatening to sue the Prime Minister, so this is a very different kind of iconography than we see here. (Of course, being an ex-pat Californian, I understand the symbolism & its context.)

  • cj

    For me, the improvised nature of the memorial is telling. On a good day, I see that as a “it needs to be done and I gonna do it” attitude. On a typical day, I see it as a an attempt to say: “You know, all this talk about honoring those who’ve sacrificed is great in the abstract and great for wrapping yourself in a flag, but when it comes down to it you treat these people like refuse–stuff that just clutters up the otherwise good ol’ American landscape.” It’s difficult to tell if the two surfers are curious or indifferent. In any case, they’re not personally affected.

  • chris

    ” Defense contractors are at war.” No they’re not; they’re in the money.

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