What Memorial Day Means in 2014
EJ Dionne Jr. on what the holiday teaches us
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted May 26, 2014 11:18 AM CDT
Civil War musicians and veterans march in a 1915 Memorial Day parade in Los Angeles, California.   (California Historical Society/Wikimedia)

(Newser) – Most people today probably associate Memorial Day with barbeques and sales, but EJ Dionne Jr. takes a look at its history in the Washington Post and concludes that it's "a peculiarly appropriate holiday for our times." Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, honoring those who died in the Civil War. There were bitter debates about whether it started in the North or South, which persisted until 1966, when President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, NY, the holiday's official birthplace. Only after World War I did the day come to honor all American war dead.

"Seen one way, the Memorial Day story traces a heartening journey" of a divided nation coming back together, Dionne writes. But let's not forget its Civil War roots. The political conflicts of that era "bear eerie similarities to our own." No, we're not dealing with anything as important as slavery, but there are stark regional differences over federal and judicial power, the constitution, and patriotism. Memorial Day should remind us to conduct these debates responsibly, and "that politics can have dire consequences." Click for his full column.