In the United States, our military is commanded by civilian leadership, with the elected President as 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 – loss of life included.
All of our service members give so much in terms of time, commitment, labor, and skill. They all pay a cost, especially those who serve in time of war or theater of combat. There is no wrong day to be grateful to those who have worn a uniform of the USA and served with honor. There is no wrong day to thank them, except today.
Today is Memorial Day, a day that honors those who gave all they had in the line of duty. A lot of people seem to have lost sight of what this day means amid cook-outs and mattress sales. Today we are meant to honor the fallen who never returned to their communities and families. 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. This is the one day set aside for those who cannot receive our thanks themselves.
We ask you to pause and think today for a while about the real meaning of this sacred but secular holiday. This is the day we acknowledge the risk that comes with putting people in harm’s way for the common defense and the cause of liberty. The practice of democracy means that we share that responsibility, whether we voted for the Commander-in-Chief or not; whether or not we agree with the mission. It means that we share the pride and the blame for every outcome, whether we campaigned for it, against it, or stayed silent. Our nation, which each of us shares ownership of, owes these people, these human lives, a debt. We must honor their lives and all that they could have been had they lived.
Let us remember the dead and honor their service, but mind that they did not die to glorify war. 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 actions. 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 focused on doing just that sort of thing.
Let us also spare a thought for all of those who died not of a broken body, but of a broken heart, mind, or soul. Let us recognize that those lost to depression, addiction, or mental trauma are still casualties of war, even if they made it home before their injuries caught up with them.
We can honor their service best by being wise in our policy making and always holding out diplomatic options. We must think that, in most cases, the deployment of troops is a failure of leadership and negotiation. Violence can never be the default answer to anything but 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.
Today is Memorial Day, honoring Americans killed doing as their country asked. Let us continue working to build a nation worthy of the loss of lives given in its defense, its allies, and its vision for the world. 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.