"Why Memorial Day?" A Discussion and Book Forum on What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song

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American public life requires citizens who know who they are as Americans, who are knowledgeably attached to their country and communities, and who possess the character--the attitudes, sensibilities, and virtues--necessary for robust civic participation. What So Proudly We Hail, edited by Amy and Leon Kass and Diana Schaub, seeks to help form such citizens, using the soul-shaping possibilities of American short stories, political speeches, and songs. Making citizens, like building character generally, requires educating the moral imagination and sentiments, and developing fitting habits of the heart--matters both displayed in and nurtured by our great works of imaginative literature and rhetoric. The readings collected in What So Proudly We Hail shed light on our civic character and ways, encourage thoughtful patriotic attachment, and elicit timeless aspirations for civic improvement--always with an eye on our founding commitment to freedom and equality.

 

Several selections in the anthology deal with the importance of civic holidays for the perpetuation of our institutions and the attachment of our citizens. This forum will introduce the book with a discussion of the meaning and importance of Memorial Day, a holiday first instituted to honor those who died in the Civil War defending the Union. The point of departure for our discussion will be a reading of "In Our Youth Our Hearts Were Touched with Fire," by Civil War veteran and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., delivered as a defense of Memorial Day on May 30, 1884. Panelists will then discuss the speech and the meaning of Memorial Day today.

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