Dispatches from the Empire

Yesterday was the military funeral for my neighbor that died in February. His ashes were interred at a state veteran’s cemetery of a neighboring (red) state, as all the veteran cemeteries in ours are located on the far more liberal side of the state, which he hated.

I’ve been told this should bring some closure — I heard it repeated it all weekend — but I don’t feel any. I had ‘closure’ many months ago, and while it was nice to meet some of his family, this weekend only served to remind me how hollow so much of this feels.

The veteran’s cemetery abuts a subdivision several miles from the city center, the green manicured grass pushing into the sagebrush desert that surrounds it. I presume a veteran’s cemetery is designed to inspire, I don’t know, reverence? But who comes to a place like this and feels anything but horror at the ticky-tacky of it all? Is this what patriotism is now? A few acres beside Shady Acres?

A tombstone in the foreground, a tacky home in a subdivision behind it with a large banner facing the cemetery advertising "home for sale!"

Once, I had an idea of cemeteries as hallowed ground, as spaces that were meant to persist into the future, to demonstrate to future generations the respect and reverence we felt for those in the ground, veterans or not. Yet the more I see, the more I realize the cemeteries of our time are just suburbs of the dead, mere cul-de-sacs of headstones. I rarely see anyone visiting cemeteries, no families picnicking as was once customary and common. Built on the edge of town (on land given as a tax write-off) and accessible only by car, they’re bereft of anything remotely natural. The grass endlessly mowed and sprayed with chemicals, the ground as embalmed as the bodies beneath.

It’s bullshit.

Nearly every principle, every belief, every assumption that undergirds that cemetery is fake. Patriotism, afterlife, “respect for the dead”… it’s all bullshit. Our culture doesn’t respect the dead, we want them out of the way. We don’t create lasting monuments to their sacrifices, we put them at the edge of town so we won’t be bothered. These are not monuments to the dead, but shrines to convenience and willful ignorance.