Remembering Memorial Day in Pictures

Ironically, America as a nation seems to have forgotten exactly what Memorial Day is about. Barbeques, all-day sales, the “official” start of summer—all of these threaten to crowd out the parades, the memorials, and, worst of all, the people. How we picture Memorial Day says a lot about us as a culture and perhaps even more about where that culture is going.

I’m part of the post-Vietnam generation that a majority of which has never served in uniform for our country. This coming election will be the first in the 20th century in which neither candidate ever served either. The current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan exist half a world away but feel much farther emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually for those of us who aren’t directly involved or love someone who is. Rachel Maddow’s Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power cuts to the heart of just how isolated those in the military have become from mainstream Americans, along with chronicling just how the idea of the citizen-soldier has died since the end of World War II.

I’m here on this Earth, however, thanks to the military. My father joined the peacetime (aka, Cold War) army in the mid 1950s to learn the new field of computers. A kid from North Philadelphia suddenly found himself stationed in Alaska. He befriended a guy in his unit from New Jersey who had a speech impediment. That guy from Jersey had a sister. When the two friends returned home, my uncle introduced my father to the young woman who became my mother. My mother was the youngest of six kids—three of whom were much older brothers who fought in World War II. My parents knew what it was to have someone from their life in uniform, as did most people of that time.

Much of the way I picture war—“memorialize” it a la Memorial Day—comes from history books and, thanks to my father, war movies. Joe Rosenthal’s photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima depicting six men raise the American flag on Mount Suribachi doesn’t never felt like a still photo to me, and still doesn’t. I remember my 9-year-old self sitting in a movie theater munching popcorn beside my father watching Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, and a cast of thousands in Midway and jumping at every Sensurround-enhanced explosion. The sad thread that runs through all of these memories is that they are of the past and, too often, the distant past. Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day,” when people would mark the day by decorating the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers, but what we need now is not to remember the past as much as remember the present.

The perfect picture for this year’s Memorial Day (shown above) happened on Sunday in Minnesota. When sisters Annie and Alex Buresh rounded third base before the Twins game, they saw a huge surprise blocking home plate—their father, Master Sergeant Robert Buresh, returned from Afghanistan after 5 months away in his sixth career deployment. The girls’ mother had arranged the whole surprise with the team. Buresh fell to his knees and wrapped the two girls up in his arms as 38,710 people stood and applauded. The girls never reached home, but that moment brought the human reality of war home to the people watching in the stands. Memorial Day is about the dead, but we must also remember that it’s about the living, too.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why is 18 the age of adulthood if the brain can take 30 years to mature?

Neuroscience research suggests it might be time to rethink our ideas about when exactly a child becomes an adult.

Mind & Brain
  • Research suggests that most human brains take about 25 years to develop, though these rates can vary among men and women, and among individuals.
  • Although the human brain matures in size during adolescence, important developments within the prefrontal cortex and other regions still take pace well into one's 20s.
  • The findings raise complex ethical questions about the way our criminal justice systems punishes criminals in their late teens and early 20s.
Keep reading Show less

Apparently even NASA is wrong about which planet is closest to Earth

Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.

Strange Maps
  • Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
  • Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
  • Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
Keep reading Show less

Mini-brains attach to spinal cord and twitch muscles

A new method of growing mini-brains produces some startling results.

(Lancaster, et al)
Surprising Science
  • Researchers find a new and inexpensive way to keep organoids growing for a year.
  • Axons from the study's organoids attached themselves to embryonic mouse spinal cord cells.
  • The mini-brains took control of muscles connected to the spinal cords.
Keep reading Show less