The United States is a representative democracy and our military is commanded by civilian leadership; the elected President is the Commander and Chief of all our armed forces. All of our military operations are under the collective (if indirect) control of the citizenry—all service members carry out orders with our implied consent.
We are, collectively, responsible for all victories and losses, including the loss of life, whether we individually agreed with the mission or not.
Today is Memorial Day, a day that honors those who gave all they had in the line of duty. Some people seem to have lost sight of the sacredness of the day means amid cook-outs and mattress sales. Today is the set aside for those who cannot receive our thanks themselves.
Today we are meant to honor the fallen who never returned to their communities and families. Whether they fell in the front line, died in the hospital, or died later of wounds that never healed—physical or mental—today we give thanks to those who will never hear it because their service to this country and the mission we laid before them cost them their lives.
Let us remember the dead and honor their service, but let us not glorify war to honor them. Let us remember that our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines serve the mission set forth by our elected officials, but that they all serve in hopes of leaving the world more peaceful for their service. Their mission is never to glorify conflict, destruction, or death. They hoped to help make the world safer and spread the right of conscience and defend the use of the democratic process against tyrants and oligarchs. We must ensure that the mission is always thus.
We can honor their service best by being wise in our policy making and always holding out diplomatic options. We must understand that, in most cases, the deployment of troops is a failure of leadership and negotiation. Violence can never be the default answer to anything except violence. The highest honor I believe we can pay to the fallen is to send no more of their siblings-in-arms to their ranks if there is any option to do otherwise.
Let us continue working to build a nation worthy of the loss of lives already given in its defense. Let us work for peace, ensuring that no life is ever lost except in dire situations. May peace be our goal in all but defense of life and liberty.