Remember the Militia

Jim Blasingame

Reasonable people disagree on the exact origins of what is now called Memorial Day.

But most accept that the practice of decorating the graves of Americans who died defending their country began in earnest by women of the South during and following the Civil War.

On May 5, 1868, Gen. John Al Logan, national commander of the Army of the Republic, was the first to make Memorial Day official with General Order No. 11, which stated in part that “…the 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country…”

Since then, other than Congress making it a national holiday and changing the date to the last Monday in May, America has honored its fallen heroes from all conflicts in pretty much the manner that Gen. Logan anticipated with the language of his order, whereby “…posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit…”

When America issue its first call to arms, before it was a country, before there was a standing professional army that call went to the militia, which was identified as “all able-bodied men.” Calling themselves the “Minutemen,” because they could be ready to fight on a minute’s notice, they were primarily shopkeepers, craftsmen, farmers, etc. Today, we would call them small business owners.

From as far away as Scotland, America’s Minutemen were impressive. Writing about the colonies’ quest for independence from England in his classic work, “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith predicted America would prevail thanks to its militia which, “…turns from its primary citizen character into a standing army.”

By the 20th century, state militias had become part of the National Guard. And by 1916, the National Defense Act created another layer of citizen soldiers, the Reserves.

Before the war with Spain, latter-day Minutemen served only on American soil. Since 1898, including World Wars I and II, in Korea, Vietnam and the two Iraqi conflicts, America has deployed its citizen-soldiers around the world, right alongside its regular armed forces.

In Operation Iraqi Freedom, for example, the Guard and Reserve have averaged about one-third of U.S. forces, and alas, account for a comparable percentage of casualties.

Whenever they’ve been called, small business owners and their employees have left the marketplace to demonstrate their courage – and die, if necessary – on the battlefield.

So, on this Memorial Day, as we honor all who paid the ultimate price in service to this country, let’s also remember the long tradition of America’s small business volunteers to serve faithfully in harm’s way on behalf of a grateful nation.

Write this on a rock… Clearly, America would not exist, nor ultimately have endured, without the sacrifice of those heroes who have turned from their “primary citizen character into a standing army.”

Jim Blasingame
Small Business Expert and host of The Small Business Advocate Show
©2008 All Rights Reserved

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