A Memorial Day Special
Memorial day is an important date to remind us how fortunate we are. Most of us live lives of relative safety, far from anything that could threaten our security. But that safety is hard-won by the sacrifice of people willing to lay down their lives. In essence, many cultures, such as the Romans, had a day of remembrance for their fallen heroes.
Our modern incarnation of Memorial Day started after the Civil War when General John A. Logan poetically mentioned the soldiers “whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” A national commemoration day was started, urging all of us to place a flower on a fallen hero’s grave.
Keeping with the themes of honoring our brave armed forces, fallen and living, let’s talk about something a little counter-intuitive: cleaning—namely, the admirable focus on cleaning and how it promotes discipline.
You wouldn’t think that warriors were the prim and proper types. The stereotype about fighting personnel is that they are gruff and tough, with little care for the small particularities of life.
Memorial Day: A Desire Born of Need and Pride
Used to action movies and little else, a raw recruit might find it surprising just how much of his time will be spent cleaning and maintaining both his equipment and surroundings. In fact, most of the military’s efforts are spent on getting things to work.
The most significant proportion of people will never see combat. Logistics, supply, research, and support jobs will make up most of the list.
Combat personnel or not, all military staff learn to take pride in their appearance. In fact, many standard men’s wardrobe items have military origins. From raincoats to dress shirts and jackets, these items entered the civilian market due to military surplus.
You quickly learn to iron and maintain your clothes and clean your living quarters. The standard requirements would put even the most hardened civilian neat-freak to shame. In the armed forces, chores are a right of passage, a mild hazing ritual, and a necessity.
Speaking of Memorial Day and the Civil War, have you seen a picture of those soldiers? Their uniforms look great, and their facial hair was on point. Their appearance recommended them not only as people but as disciplined warriors.
Why This Focus on Cleanliness and Appearance?
First, there is the question of pride and humanity. In the Civil War alone, an estimated 640,000 people died. War is a dirty and dehumanizing endeavor, so clinging to your dignity allows you to survive it with your soul intact.
A soldier should stand proud, as his calling is a profession born from sacrifice and toil. Where it can be helped, order, discipline, and cleanliness will be maintained.
The second factor that drives a need for cleanliness is pragmatism. After all, Memorial Day celebrates those who have fallen, first and foremost. An unknown fact is that disease was the primary killer in war before the modern age, not the enemy swords and cannons.
Ailments born from uncleanliness and lack of resources were known to ravage entire armies. Dysentery was especially lethal during the Civil War. Even modern wars from the last century had disease outbreaks due to unclean conditions and lice.
It makes sense to enforce cleanliness strictly due to a soldier’s propensity for getting sick. Also, cleaning equipment tends to prolong its usefulness. You are halfway across the world, and you can’t just jump into the nearest store and replace something.
Discipline is about doing things that are unpleasant to do because they must be done. This is a broad category, fitting both cleaning and fighting. Nothing ruins the appearance of discipline more than dirty sleeping quarters or a wrinkled and neglected uniform.
There is something admirable in the look of a soldier, as he manages to stand tall amongst the most hostile conditions in the world.