Human Events Blog

Memorial Day: Every life given, not all returned

Every American soldier gives his life when he races into battle on our behalf.  Thankfully, most of those lives are returned.  On Memorial Day, we remember those that were lost.

Mankind has always struggled with the definition of honor.  It can be found along many different paths.  The soldier under fire finds a fusion of courage, love, and duty that the rest of us can only imagine, as calm waters reflect flashes of lighting from a distant storm.  It is our great civilian honor that America’s armed forces reflect upon us.  Each new cohort of young people in uniform, setting aside a measure of their freedom to accept military discipline, makes a perilous investment in American liberty.  It is our honorable duty to return their investment with interest.

We pause now to remember those who gave everything, and live now in loving memory, marching only through the pages of history they have written.  So many empty seats will surround picnic tables across the land on Memorial Day.  So many outposts in the deadly corners of the Earth will be patrolled by the spirits of the fallen, walking beneath a flag whose stars and stripes glimmer and burn with a spirit that will never fade.

The history of America is a never-ending military campaign.  Battles begin and end, but the war will endure, until that hoped-for day when every nation joins us upon the wings of eagles, and we might at last dream of soaring on the wings of angels.  We won’t live to see that day, and neither will our children, but we should be happy to venture no prediction beyond that.  No mortal hand is empowered to carve the future in stone, as every American soldier understands.

For the balance of our lives, there will always be a “next time.”  The next “next time” is beginning right now.  Some future historian will write an incisive book about the strains of a coming war that ran through 2012, even as previous operations were concluded.  Readers will wonder why we couldn’t see what appears so obvious to them.

We are at war because liberty is an intolerable provocation against tyranny.  Freedom is born in battle.  A million different commands to kneel have rolled through human ears.  Some crash down like thunder.  Others are seductive promises, delivered with gentle whispers, which betray little hint of the angry demands that will inevitably follow.  Liberty has but one call, and it cannot sing in harmony with those other voices.  They are well aware of its power. All tyrants fear the day their people answer the call… the day their Minutemen appear.  They naturally prefer silence, so their commands can be heard clearly. 

What made the American Revolution uncommon – the pessimistic student of history would say nearly unique – is that our Founders planned for what would come afterward.  Guns were taken up with legendary alacrity, but just as quickly set aside.  The great commander of the Revolution was offered a crown, and his people would have wept with joy as he set it upon his brow… but he declared himself their subject instead.  His Revolution was about more than destruction.

George Washington did this because he was not only a breaker of chains, but a builder of capitols.  He and his fellows did more than just erase the commands of a king.  They wrote something else, something better, and to this day bold young men and women pledge their lives to defend it.  The noble warrior who became our first President would be sad to know he was not the last American leader to leave fallen soldiers on the battlefield… but he would not be surprised.  He would be amazed to see the 21st century arsenal of liberty, but well familiar with the hands bearing those arms.

Our troops are once again coming home, and there is uncertainty about the fate of the nations they liberated.  Liberation doesn’t have to be permanent to be valuable.  Liberty is so precious that its days and hours can be counted as a fortune.  Who knows when seeds planted by American troops might flower again?

It’s proper for us to vigorously debate every mission our soldiers are sent upon.  That’s a basic responsibility of free people.  But once they are engaged, we owe the troops our vigorous support.  We owe them our hopes for victory.  That’s a word we don’t hear as often as we should.  Victory is the furthest horizon of courage.  Saying the words “I support the troops” is much easier than supporting them.  Savages always believe they have greater resolve than civilized people.  It is our civilian duty to surprise the hell out of them.

Likewise, the American manner of war is much more difficult than the indiscriminate slaughter practiced by our enemies.  Creating a mountain of corpses is much easier than climbing a sniper-infested mountain to build a school.  Counter-insurgency is far more difficult than decimation. 

The fighting men and women of the United States have conducted themselves with a gallantry matched by no other force in history.  It cost them.  The bill is written upon folded flags, and presented to wives, husbands, and children in every quarter of America.  Bless them, each and every one, and let us remember the names and faces they will never forget.


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