Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; Executive Editor Mitch Clarke; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson.
Every Memorial Day for the past decade or so, we have taken stock in where our country stands as we fight enemies abroad. For quite awhile now, the day set aside in tribute to the nation’s war casualties has continued to see that toll mount in deserts of the Middle East.
Those recent wars began in fall 2001 when U.S. and allied troops struck at the Taliban forces in Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The following year, a second front in the war opened in Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein from power.
Over the years, those dual campaigns combined to cost the United States thousands of lives. Now American combat troops have withdrawn from Iraq and plan to pull out of Afghanistan within the next two years. When they do, and barring further exploits elsewhere, U.S. forces will be off the front lines of a war zone for the first time in a dozen years.
We all look forward to the day when peace, however tentative, replaces the nightly news reports of roadside bombs, insurgent attacks and American lives lost. Too many family members and friends have mourned fallen loved ones who could have made our country better for years to come had they made it home. And yet the lesson of Memorial Day is that they still did so, even in their few years and short time of service.
We still mourn the Georgia sons and daughters lost in the service of their nation in these recent conflicts, just as generations still remember those who fell in the wars of the past. The faded headstones in our cemeteries will hold their names for generations alongside the flags we place in reverence, put there to remind everyone of their sacrifice and why it matters.
Yet beyond that, and with war as a constant presence, we may at times become somewhat numb to its consequences. It’s hard to remain in a constant state of mourning. Life goes on, even on Memorial Day.
So should we feel guilty about treating Memorial Day as just a Monday holiday? Or watching hours of war movies that glorify the heroes of battle, knowing well that real war doesn’t resemble Hollywood’s version?
It depends on our perspective. If we forget what the day means, then it means nothing. But if we fly our flags and take time to remember, however we do so, then we still do our part to celebrate the sacrifices of our fighting forces.
Thus, on this holiday weekend, the parades, barbecues and other fun events aren’t meant as frivolous pursuits but as a way to celebrate a nation made safer, stronger and better by the heroic acts of some 1.3 million brave warriors. Somewhere in the hereafter, they smile at us as we mark this day in their honor.
And while we yearn for a last Monday in May with no battles being fought overseas, we know that even during stretches of peacetime, it’s likely just a matter of time before another generation of young Americans will be called to make that supreme sacrifice.
That always has been the case; wars follow wars, with some new despot or threat challenging the peace. The guns of the American Revolution were silent but for a few decades when the War of 1812 set them off again. The Mexican War was brief and short on casualties, but many of those same soldiers squared off in the Civil War, our bloodiest war to date, a dozen years later.
“The War to End All Wars,” as the Great War of 1914-18 was called, in fact did not end all wars. It indirectly led to the rise of fascism in Europe, and World War II followed World War I like night follows day.
Korea’s “police action” against Communism begat a similar trudge through Vietnam a decade later. And our brief foray to expel Saddam from Kuwait in 1991 only delayed our final push to oust him from power, again, a mere decade later.
Indeed, it seems that every five, 10 or 20 years, some rogue nation decides to flex its muscles and invade a smaller neighbor, spurring the world’s powers to take sides and take action. That vicious cycle never ends. Peace isn’t the natural state of mankind and must be earned, often through bloodshed.
That’s why we keep our forces armed, our soldiers, sailors and Marines trained and our weapons at the ready. The cannon never fired can serve as a deterrent, but only when those in its sights know that it can and will be fired when needed. The world’s best and strongest military force must always stay that way or it cannot serve its purpose.
In the minds of some, there may be, a fine line between glorifying warfare and recognizing its necessity. Yet we don’t have to declare ourselves pro-war or anti-war to pay tribute to those who have paid the highest cost to defend our freedom.
As high as that price is, it’s worth paying to give future generations a chance to watch a parade, ride in a boat and fire up a grill every Memorial Day.