By Brian Hawkins
Memorial Day often seems to bring about uneasy feelings among many Americans. People too often allow their anti-war views to manifest into disdain for U.S. troops. This shouldn’t be the case.
Memorial Day is an opportunity for Americans to honor the memory of American soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice — a reminder of the true costs of war.
Memorial Day began as a Union holiday to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War and was eventually merged with Confederate remembrances to their Civil War dead. The joining of the north and south’s Memorial Day celebrations into a national remembrance for the fallen of all American wars was a critical step toward post-Civil War reconciliation between the north and south.
Today, Memorial Day can serve the same purpose. Americans must join together to honor the brave people who gave their lives in service of their country. But we must also take the next step by making the moral case of honoring the fallen through peace, rather than more war.
There have been 6,882 Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 15 years. This is more than a statistic. Every soldier who has died was a human being with parents, siblings, a spouse and possibly children. Every life lost through violent conflict prematurely cuts short the hopes and dreams these men and women, and their families, had for the future.
Memorial Day is an opportunity to honor the fallen, and to highlight the need to ensure that more Americans are not sent to perish in conflicts that do not advance our national interests.
War is not a movie. It is not glamorous or glorious. It is a cruel and costly experience. Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember this, and to remind fellow Americans that there will be a very real human cost to any increased intervention in the Middle East.
Hopefully, the real-life reminders of sorrow and loss reaped by war will temper clamor for more armed conflict.
Those who have given their lives for their countries often become forgotten heroes. The fallen and their families understand what duty entails and what it means to die for a cause greater than oneself. We, the living, must honor their legacy by ensuring their sacrifices serve as a reminder of the tangible consequences of war.
Americans can spare other families from experiencing the same grief by forcing the nation to confront the tragic costs of waging war.
If a nation must go to war, it must be to defend our direct national interests. Otherwise, we are asking our service members and their families to unjustly risk their lives. But opposition to war itself must not equate to disparaging the sacrifices of those who gave their lives.
This is why Americans must claim Memorial Day as a day to promote peace. If not, then we will cede the holiday — and with it, the moral high ground of honoring American heroes — to those who want to inflict more violence upon the world.
Our fallen heroes fulfilled their duties by sacrificing their lives. To honor them, we must remind Americans of the human costs of war, and promote a foreign policy that will prevent further loss and grief of our service men and women, and their families.
Brian Hawkins is a Young Voices Advocate who works at a conservative think tank in Arlington, Virginia. He is a veteran of the U.S. Army, for which he served tours of duty in South Korea and Afghanistan.