How do we honor sacrifice?
After the Civil War, Decoration Day was established to commemorate the fallen Union dead. Over time, it became Memorial Day to honor those who have died fighting in any of America’s wars.
Today, while we pay lip service to the original intent, it seems to have morphed into a three-day holiday weekend that marks the beginning of summer, automobile sales promotions, and adventures in outdoor eating.
Perhaps this is emblematic of how we have evolved as a nation, but where does that leave those who have made the ultimate sacrifice? Is the cheapening of such a somber holiday the result of the increasingly fraudulent rationales that have been employed to lead us into war?
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When Americans took stock after the Civil War or World War II, they felt that they had been saved from an existential calamity.
During these wars, everyone in the nation experienced sacrifice — and no small amount of dread — as they awaited the outcomes. The course of America’s future very much depended upon who the victor would be.
As the military-industrial complex stopped being the horse and instead became the driver, the purpose and necessity of our wars became less clear. Korea, Vietnam, adventures in Latin America and the Caribbean, Iraq, Afghanistan — these conflicts became lightning rods of controversy dividing the nation, rather than a unifying danger.
Citizens who might have planted a victory garden at one time were instead marching in the streets to protest these wars, to the consternation of their fellow citizens. With no clear and justifiable reason for these wars, Americans have become less willing to make sacrifices on the home front.
Our war planners have to continually change their methods for filling the military’s ranks as well as their rationales to convince us to continue to pay the economic costs of their adventures.
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Apologists for the various wars often resort to a claim that our soldiers are fighting and dying overseas to defend our rights to free speech here at home.
The sad truth is that our new crop of enemies abroad never threatened our freedom of speech. They might have impeded U.S. business interests, or interfered with our government’s view of how the world should operate, but their resistance to America has been based on their own existential fears when faced with America’s military might.
It is not the role of the soldier to defend free speech. Freedom of speech is given to us all by our Constitution. It will not be lost because a small nation elsewhere in the world wants to act in its own interests, rather than as an American proxy.
Free speech will only be lost if we as citizens stop exercising it. Those who might take it away are most likely to reside right here in the halls of power.
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If we are to be truthful about our military and the role it has played as America’s muscle in the world, then we owe an even greater debt to our service members who have perished in the fight.
We have an obligation to do the work that the military is specifically prevented from doing: to engage in the political arena. Only the American people, who are the nominal holders of power in our Republic, can see to it that our government does not lead us into unjust or illegal wars.
It is our job to see that actions taken in our name are actions that befit the ideals and promise of our Constitution. It is our sacred duty to ensure that not a single soldier will ever die again for a lie or for the financial interests of the ruling class.
If we are a republic, we cannot allow our men and women to fight the wars of empire. If we can achieve this goal, we will give a lasting memorial to those who have served and died for less. Any future soldier who dies for the nation must not just be a footnote to a questionable conflict.
They deserve more than that.
We must make sure that our nation delivers nothing less.