At 3pm local time today, all Americans must observe Memorial Day with a moment of silence, or so says a little observed law passed by the Congress in 2000. Much more than barbecues and sunshine, the holiday began after the Civil War on May 5, 1868, so the public would decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Originally called Decoration Day, it was created by “the Grand Army of the Republic, the vast and politically influential organization of Union veterans.” It was not until World War I that Memorial Day was established as a holiday commemorating the fallen in all American wars.
What’s the Big Idea?
The Civil War cost the nation approximately 750,000 lives, or more than two percent of its population at the time, and nearly ten percent of nation’s population fought in active duty. Today, Memorial Day requires a stronger observance because we now rely on an all-volunteer military. “We are calling on a very small percentage of our fellow citizens to risk and give their lives on behalf of us all,” says the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. “We should recognize how much we have asked of so few, particularly in the years since 2001.” Simply recognizing our obligation to the dead is the least we can do on this Memorial Day.