From Decoration Day to Memorial Day: A Fractious but Very American Journey

by Ken Feltman, American Legion Post 130, United States Marine Corps (1960-1966)(adapted from remarks at the Falls Church, Virginia Memorial Day celebration)

Today, we celebrate our country’s most sacred day: Memorial Day.

This quintessential American holiday comes to us through a typically fractious, confusing, well-intentioned, only-in-America struggle. Who could imagine that we Americans would find so many things to disagree about as we tried to honor and remember those from among us who were lost in war?

Individually, Americans are mostly friendly and helpful. Collectively, we can be a difficult people. Perhaps the “created equal” part of Americans should be restated as “created equally opinionated.”

This trait is not a secret. During a meeting between U.S. immigration officials and representatives of Iraqi Kurds last year, one Kurdish spokesman remarked that Kurds make good Americans because “we’re stubborn, too.” The remark drew knowing laughter from the Americans and knowing smiles from the Kurds.

So often, we think of ourselves as something other than one people called Americans. We are forever dividing ourselves into smaller groups: Korean-Americans, Cajuns, Italian-Americans, Cherokee, Irish-Americans, Latinos, Norwegian-Americans and (perhaps the most intractable of all) Texans.

Freedom is never born easily, anywhere, anytime. Freedom comes harder when so many have different traditions, different needs, different hopes. Compound those differences with Yankee stubbornness and Southern suspicion and you have roadblocks everywhere. Memorial Day was never going to be born easily.

In the beginning, this day was called Decoration Day. Just as that name has changed over time, so have attitudes, in both the states of the old Union and the states of the Confederacy.

Decoration Day was to be a day of remembrance, honoring those who died in the service of the United States of America. It was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by General John Logan of Illinois, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. The GAR claimed as members all who had fought for the Union. That made the GAR – and the new holiday – suspect in parts of the South. Was Decoration Day just a plot to keep Northern troops ready for new hostilities? Why were only those from the North to be honored?

Some argued that Logan was presumptuous, that the Grand Army of the Republic – with its pretentious, European-sounding name – did not have the power to enforce the holiday upon the states of the former Confederacy.

  • Logan noted that valor has no boundaries. He reminded people that soldiers from the North were buried in Southern ground and soldiers from the South were buried in Northern ground. Everyone was to be included.
  • He spoke of Arlington Cemetery, taken from land that had belonged to General Robert E. Lee’s wife’s family, descendants of George Washington.

Logan stated: “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet church yard in the land.” A Chicago newspaper editor suggested that “their country” meant the Confederate States as well as the United States. Many disagreed but the holiday proceeded.

The original date of Decoration Day was chosen not for what it was but for what it was not: It was not the anniversary of any particular battle. We still have disagreements over the date.

On that first Decoration Day, General (later President) James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there, in common ground.

Perhaps Garfield was a poor choice. He was not popular in the South. During the battle of Shiloh (known as Pittsburg Landing in the South) he attacked the forces of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, a Southern favorite who had just routed the troops of General Ulysses S. Grant. Johnston, considered by many on both sides to be the best military strategist of the war, was killed in the fighting.

Nonetheless, Garfield’s remarks were accepted as conciliatory. The wounds began to heal, slowly, fitfully, region by region, town by town.

That first Decoration Day was a success, especially in the North. Soon, over two dozen cities and towns claimed to be the birthplace of Decoration Day. Finally, in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson thought he could settle the arguments by proclaiming that Waterloo, New York, was the official birthplace of what was by then called Memorial Day. President Johnson failed. There are still rival claims from other places, just as some in the former Confederate States for years have had an ambivalent view of what one Southern legislator called “another Yankee imposition.”

Regardless of the squabbling and hurt feelings over its origins and intentions, one thing is clear: Memorial Day was born out of the Civil War (or the War Between the States or, to some Virginians, the “recent unpleasantness”) and was born out of a desire to honor our dead.

Still, we found reasons to squabble. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, moving four holidays, including Memorial Day, to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted the change, with some Southern states being the last to conform.

Many people and groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, continue to believe that moving the date to a Monday made it all too easy for people to be distracted from the spirit and meaning of the day.

Beginning in 1987, Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, a wounded World War II veteran, introduced a measure to return Memorial Day to its traditional date. Inouye continued introducing the resolution in every Congress until his death in 2012. No one questioned Inouye’s patriotism. But many wanted a three-day weekend.

Today, groups from all across the country continue to ask Congress to return Memorial Day to its traditional May 30.

How very American: We can never really settle things, once and for all. Everything is always in transition, nothing is ever final. We are always tinkering, arguing, finding reasons to disagree.

Or is this our way of attempting to perfect our democracy?

We in this small Virginia place known as Falls Church occupy ambivalent ground to this day. In 1860, many people in this area wanted to stay within the Union. Others wanted to break away, some because they owned slaves, more because they resented what they considered “Northern aggression.” Most considered themselves Virginians first and citizens of the national government second. The Potomac River sometimes must have seemed as wide as an ocean.

At other times, it was just a small stream, as it must have seemed to General Robert E. Lee as he looked across the river toward the White House from his home, the Custis-Lee Mansion – now called Arlington House. Lee declined President Lincoln’s request to take command of the Union forces and left his home, never to return. Soon both Union and Confederate soldiers were buried within a few yards of Lee’s home.

Did it have to end in such bloodshed? Do the very ideals which make us strong also lead to our greatest weaknesses? A British colleague once remarked that “Americans have too much freedom. You have no restraint. We have the Queen to make the divisive but unimportant decisions.”

We have drawn blood over the most basic human values: emancipation, suffrage, religious freedom. Today, we battle over abortion, marriage, the right to bear arms, control of our children’s education. When these battles are decided, who believes that no new battle-lines will be drawn?

Democracy is not the default form of government. Democracy is difficult to create and keep. We have created the most unrestrained form of democracy. We seem to be reaching for the extremes to validate the basics.

We have drawn blood over things that continue to be very important to our understanding of our democracy. We have also drawn blood over things that seem, in retrospect, unimportant. Could it be that even the smallest infringement on a restive democracy can stunt its growth and, at some future point, make everyone less free, even if no one notices today?

All our differences – political, territorial, ethnic, religious – add the flavors, the spices, to our national stew. What a hardy broth! What a contentious gumbo!

As a people, we seem to enjoy, even rejoice, in our differences. We are good at creating differences. What about unity? Can we enjoy and rejoice in our unity? We all know that, together, we are stronger. But we are so very American!

Georgia Senator and Governor Zell Miller put it well 11 years ago:

“For it has been said, so truthfully, that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. 

It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest. 

It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives that protester the freedom to abuse and burn that flag.”

President Reagan warned us:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

What sort of country, what sort of commonwealth, are we going to hand on to the generations that may gather here in 10, 50, 100 years? We have a big responsibility. So do those who follow us. Together, in our fractious but ever-so-American way, we must lead.

It is our turn and our responsibility.

Posted in United States | Tagged

I lost two good and long-time friends today: Jim Brady and Gene Callahan

By Ken Feltman

Jim Brady was a wonderful, zany man. To know him was to laugh a lot. Could I tell you stories!

The trip to the Army-Navy game shortly after President Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976 … on the campaign trail with Senator Dirksen … throwing his Christmas tree, lights, decorations and all, from his high rise condo into the Chicago River one July just because it was a little brown … killer trees … and so many more. His wife Sarah anchored Jim, before and after that terrible day in March, 1981. Through it all, Jim had a disarming sense of humor that smoothed the way for the things he worked toward.

Gene Callahan was a loyal friend and mentor. To know him was to have as good a friend as you needed. Yes, I could tell you stories.

He was a hard-working journalist-turned-political pro who navigated the swirling waters of Illinois and Washington politics with savvy, street-smart but gentle genius. As chief of staff for Senator Alan Dixon of Illinois and head of government relations for Major League Baseball, he built relationships and coalitions. His daughter, Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois, inherited his loyalty and ability to know little but important things about lots of people.

There are only a few like Jim and Gene. Now, both are gone, on the same day. They made things work better, for more people, for good reasons. We need to have more of their kind, especially in these times.

More about Jim Brady:

More about Gene Callahan:

Posted in Politics | Tagged ,

Obama doesn’t seem to know how to be president

Originally posted on I Said . . . comments on current issues:

Two years ago, a PhD student from Stanford University spoke with several former Obama White House staff members. Naturally, they were guarded in what they said but, every so often, a few of them made a revealing comment or two.

The student reported to me that lower level staffers followed the Obama Administration talking-points and blamed the Republicans for the legislative gridlock. But the higher-ups in the chain of command sometimes expressed a quiet frustration.

A woman said: “He (President Obama) created what was like a college dorm atmosphere in the West Wing. People were never certain what their job was because someone would change the priorities just like that.”

A man remarked: “There was a lot of brainstorming about things with no decisions made or plan of action, or timetable, and no results.”

Another man commented: “A president does not really have a fixed job description. He gets to…

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Posted in Controversial

A tale of two Virginias

By Ken Feltman

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), widely assumed to be the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, was beaten in a primary yesterday. The media are claiming Cantor’s loss is a shocking, totally unexpected event. Not so fast: Cantor got caught in excessive hubris and a Congressional district that reflects a split in the Republican Party that will not be easy to resolve.

Tea Party folks are claiming credit. But the various Tea Party groups were hardly involved in the primary. The immigration issue served as a rallying point for disenchanted voters hurt by the economy and having trouble finding good jobs. These voters struck out at Cantor, who was more attuned to the better off suburban Richmond voters.

Cantor ignored warnings

Some groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, picked up the signals that Cantor was in trouble. Cantor dismissed their intelligence and their offers of help. Yesterday, as his constituents voted, Cantor met with lobbyists at a Starbucks on Capitol Hill in Washington to plan fundraising activities.

Do not read national significance into this primary upset. Cantor has never been comfortable with rural “red-neck” Republicans. During reapportionment, his consultants managed to add non-suburban Republican areas to his district, seemingly strengthening his hold. These new areas were an uncomfortable fit for Cantor and they turned out yesterday to vote for a simpler message than the nuanced Cantor conveyed.

Cantor’s pollster misread the likely GOP electorate. Cantor misread the growing split between frustrated conservatives who feel threatened and disadvantaged, unable to control their economic destiny, and those Republicans who have financial stability and want to build on that base.

Richmond suburbs are moving north?

Another way to look at it: The Richmond suburbs are growing and, in essence,  moving north, politically, toward the Washington suburbs of Northern Virginia. As the Richmond suburbs “move north,” they pass the more rural areas that remain, politically, in the old Virginia.

This split will intensify and the Republican Party will have a difficult time reconciling these two Virginias. During last weekend’s Republican convention in Roanoke, the antagonism toward Northern Virginia was evident in “Yankee, go home” comments directed at some Northern Virginia delegates.

The suburban areas near Washington may wish they could split from the rest of Virginia because they pay taxes to shore up the economies and infrastructure of many struggling areas of the Old Dominion. Although West Virginia split off from Virginia in the Civil War, with help from the Union government in Washington, separation will not happen today. But the separation of attitudes will continue to define the two Virginias. One is resisting, even regressing, as times remain tough, The other is more moderate, accepting and accommodating. It is also an economic engine that all parts of the Commonwealth of Virginia need.

This is the Virginia equivalent of New York City versus Upstate New York or Chicago versus Downstate Illinois – an uneasy tension that occasionally breaks out in political chaos.

Posted in Congress, Elections, Ken Feltman, Political parties, Politics | Tagged , ,

The Manipulator: Psychological Profile of Ukrainian President Yanukovich

by Elizaveta Egorova, PhD, and Ekaterina Egorova, PhD

(This is an update of the April 2010 psychological profile of President Yanukovich by Ekaterina Egorova and Elizaveta Egorova.)

Viktor Yanukovich’s choice between the association with the EU or the accession to the Customs Union is quite predictable if you look at this decision in terms of personality of Yanukovich. The President of Ukraine has once again demonstrated his skills of diplomacy based on his purely personal pragmatism that allowed him “to manipulate” the decision to join this or that economic space over such essential for his country issues such as the price of Russian gas and public debt.

The main goals in this game are primarily the presidential elections which results should be recognized by Moscow, and money from Russia which would slightly reduce the pressure of the economic factor in the Ukrainian upcoming elections.

There is a feeling that Yanukovich’s plans to engage with European integration were not serious from the very beginning, since he understands that EU is unlikely to recognize the results of the next presidential elections held under his scenario as legitimate. Both, the EU and Moscow are just figures on the Yanukovich’s chessboard which he move accordingly towards his plan, and yet quite successfully. Maidan square – does not count. This topic as well as the Western reaction towards the tough actions against the opposition is outside of Yanukovich’s interests.

Thus, which psychological characteristics of Yanukovich will help us to understand his behavior in relation to Moscow and Brussels?

Yanukovich grew up in the tough world, poverty, without parental support, and love. His childhood on the streets and days in prison taught him the main lessons – how to survive by relying on himself and how to manage the situation. He perceives the world extremely pragmatic: all profitable works good.

His childhood has formed the lack of emotional ties and obligations to anyone whatsoever. People who surround Yanukovich are the means in achieving his own goals. This mental design has firmly taken its place in Yanukovich’s domestic and foreign policies.

Yanukovich represents a vivid example of the political leader persistently working toward his goal. He had to overcome difficult barriers, humiliation and open hatred to become a president. Yanukovich brands his enemies as liars and calls traitors those who do not share his position. His reaction to criticism is aggressive and very painful. He greatly desires to obtain power over those who do not submit to him. But to rule in the country divided into two is not so simple. If there is no consensus, a politician with such psychological personality structure may operate only by means of compulsion.

Yanukovich is a classical example of a personality whose self-esteem is low and requires compensation. Its roots are in his unhappy childhood. Yanukovich considers himself to be a hero in all victories and blames others for defeats. Each foreign policy failure will be attributed to the behavior of the other party, and the process of reflecting his own behavior will be blocked.

The low self-esteem and lack of confidence in himself, caused by the shortage of love and recognition on the part of his parents, was expressed in his aspiration for occupying a dominating position and his need for power over others. In his interview to newspaper “Vzglyad” Yanukovich emphasized – “Today, Ukraine needs tough mechanisms of power providing presidential government no less than ten years”. [1]

Force for him is the main element of power. However, the natural pragmatism counterbalances the power orientation dictated by a very high need for power. Yanukovich is likely to demonstrate force approach through obstinacy and stubbornness, if there is no “carrot”. A potential “stick” is unlikely to produce any impression on him. However, a situation of real inconvenience probably will encourage Yanukovich to cooperate, as it happened during his first term prison sentence.

Yanukovich perceives a conflict as an integral part of any policy. Therefore politics is a cruel war where all means are good. Hence, in foreign policy he trusts nobody and is not going to relax. All allies are “friends” only for the time being while they are useful. And their usefulness is determined, in the first place, by Yanukovich’s goals. Since he is aimed at domination owing to his high need for power and the direct domination over the presidents of larger and strong countries is rather problematic, his domination may take a form of using them pragmatically to suit his own ends. As a result, cunning may well replace force, allowing him to solve his problems.

Yanukovich’s low self-esteem gave a push to the development of another major need, his need for achievement. It has a compensatory character as other needs. Therefore, he probably lives it through more sharply than the people with an adequate self-esteem. Yanukovich always tries to reach his goals, to be guided by the result and is ready to concentrate all his forces for its sake. He said about himself: “I am a man of action. It takes little time between my idea and its realization.” It is an important quality for a political leader.

Pragmatism is a key concept for Yanukovich. His pragmatism is focused on the main question: “What shall I get from it?” This question suggests various benefits like political and economic gain, support and recognition, power and influence, status and prestige. The clear understanding of what he may receive in various situations of foreign policy interaction will help Yanukovich to work out his line of behavior. However, the understanding of what he can lose or receive only partly may also facilitate making the right decision.

Even in respect of foreign policy Yanukovich formulated his thought rather clearly: “We will pursue a pragmatic and balanced foreign policy.”

Yanukovich is a good fighter with little fear. He was always ready to get involved in a dangerous situation and to risk. Rules and laws have value for him only if they ensure his own rights. In all other cases, they are only obstacles that should be skillfully bypassed.

His attitude to rules is worth remembering at the time of reaching agreements with Yanukovich and “ensuring” their observance. Yanukovich’s pragmatism allows him to change his position depending on his personal benefit, departing from previous arrangements. If some agreements are unfavorable to him, he simply ignores them. Therefore, the agreement reached as a result of the negotiations may be easily torpedoed, most likely silently. As a pragmatist, Yanukovich is always ready to reorient himself in his alliances, to trim his sails to the wind and capable of maneuvering in the changed conditions.

By virtue of his high need for affiliation Yanukovich cannot accept indifference to his personality. Attention to his personality is required during the interaction with Yanukovich. However, it is unable to arouse an emotional response from him.

Yanukovich is quite capable of strategic planning in his ventures aimed at achieving his goals. He is well aware of the situations around him, skillfully estimating his resources and possibilities. Focused on achieving success, he competently finds out and estimates every possibility that will lead him to the necessary result. He is also able to estimate his obstacles properly and to find a way to bypass them skillfully, maneuvering tactically at that.

In interpersonal relations, Yanukovich is highly distrustful and has a strong paranoid accentuation. If he comes across any counteraction on the part of those with whom he co-operates, it only makes him insist on his own approach even more, moving to the set goal. In other words, the disagreement with his offers or refusal of them is likely to force him even more to implement his plan.

Yanukovich still wins in this challenging game with such serious opponents as the EU and Russia. And if the European Union is experiencing annoyance that it was “used”, Moscow does not feel so. Meanwhile, in Kiev Yanukovich began to actively prepare the ground for the presidential elections and the new set of laws once again demonstrate the Ukraine’s vector of political development under Yanukovich’s rule.

Copyright © 2014 Elizaveta Egorova and Ekaterina Egorova. All rights reserved.

Posted in Controversial, Ekaterina and Elizaveta Egorova, Elections, Politics, psychological profile, Russia, Thought-Provoking Analysis, Ukraine | Tagged , , , , ,