May 31, 2010
Although each new days brings with it stories of continued conflict from Iraq and Afghanistan, too many people find it easy to push the sacrifices made by the men and the women who are serving or have served in the military to the back of their mind. Today America celebrates Memorial Day. We welcome the holiday as the unofficial beginning of summer and, too often, forget its original intent — to honor the war dead from America’s Civil War and all subsequent wars. Honoring those who die in conflict is, of course, an ancient tradition. It became an official U.S. holiday because there was something particularly poignant about the Civil War, since it often saw brother fight against brother and friend against friend.
War is a terrible, but sometimes necessary, activity. It’s not the dying that makes men and women heroic; it’s their willingness to place their life on the altar of liberty. We memorialize the dead, but we honor both the living and the dead who serve the causes of freedom and justice. As Richard Watson Gilder wrote, “Better than honor and glory, and History’s iron pen, was the thought of duty done and the love of his fellow-men.” Remembering, memorializing, and honoring those willing to fight the country’s wars could be seen by some as glorifying war. It’s not. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “War is a poor chisel to carve out tomorrow.” Memorial Day recognizes the sacrifices of men and women, not the horrific conflicts that made such sacrifices necessary.
Amid the day’s activities — the picnics, the games, the family gatherings — pause, at least for a moment, and silently honor those who serve and who have served to make this world a little better place in which to live. Remember, as Wallace Bruce wrote, those “who kept the faith and fought the fight; the glory theirs, the duty ours.”