Memorial Day, for the United States

The Republic of Ireland does not observe Memorial Day on the last Monday of May. Indeed, there is no public holiday of the Republic devoted to the memory of war.

The Republic of Ireland’s orientation towards wars and soldiers reflects the nation’s extraordinarily complex history of warfare. I’ll mention a few, recent aspects of that history — and that will be difficult enough. The Republic has been neutral since its inception, most famously (or infamously) during the Second World War. Irish military forces have a long record of participation in UN peacekeeping missions, suffering serious losses at Jadotville and Niemba in Congo in 1960-61. Presently, Irish soldiers are protecting refugees from Darfur, in Chad. For an overview of the Irish in warfare, I recommend the “Soldiers and Chiefs” exhibit at the National Museum at Collins Barracks.

Anita recently took Ray and Cindy to the War Memorial Gardens in Dublin. The Gardens memorialize Irish soldiers who died while serving with Great Britain in the First World War. I understand the history of these Gardens as a physical representation of the complicated memory of war in Irish society. Ireland was still part of Great Britain at the time of The Great War, but the Easter Rising of 1916 signifies just one of the undercurrents against the Crown and its wars. (For example, one of the most remarkable differences between Belfast and Dublin is the unalloyed pride and glory that Belfast’s public institutions manifest regarding the city’s roles in the First and Second World Wars.)

War Memorial Gardens

There is a lasting ambivalence regarding some Irish people’s support of Great Britain during that war, because other Irish became national heroes through resistance to the same state at the same time. This delayed the inauguration of the Gardens and also contributed to their declining maintenance through the 20th Century. [Nota bene: This analysis comes from an unverified wikipedia article.] Today, the Gardens have been restored by the state and they are well-maintained, although they are not frequently visited by Irish or foreign tourists. I have yet to visit them myself!

As for myself and Memorial Day? Yesterday evening, a coincidentally appropriate podcast turned my mind to living veterans. I prepared for sleep by listening to a random choice from a backlog of podcasts from Escape Pod: “Elites” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I didn’t know that it would be a moving story about life as a “recovering” combatant. The editor of the podcast articulated one theme of the story with a quotation from José Narosky: “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.”