Today is Memorial Day. For many Americans, it’s “the official beginning of summer,” with backyard barbeques and sports on TV. For other Americans, it’s a much heavier day: it’s a day for visiting cemeteries, for laying wreaths, for remembering fallen brothers and sisters in arms. Public America straddles the gap between those two, ostentatiously paying lip service in front of the cameras: bits for the evening news, to prove that we “support our troops.”
It is high time we stopped accepting the lip-service of politicians about “support for the troops” when actual men and women who have served this country in war are hungry or homeless.
I am no lover of war. I wish that no American ever again had to go to war. But once we accept an oath from a person volunteering to serve in our military, to give up their freedom in order to defend ours, we as a nation have responsibilities to them. And should they serve in a theater of war, and suffer the emotional and physical damage that war inflicts on everyone in combat, our debt to them and to their families soars. These are debts that nothing can cancel out.
This Memorial Day, I am conscious that I have two sons, both of whom are alive and near to me. I am also conscious that there are parents all over America who sent children off to war who never returned, or who returned broken and hurt. I am grateful for what I have, and I want to be properly appreciative of the staggering contributions others have made to our national life.
Their contributions — their lives, the lives of their loved ones — are a continual reminder that while we may see ourselves as a nation of “rugged individualists” we are in fact a society interconnected to the core. The freedom of my life is possible because others have given theirs. Their sacrifices must not be forgotten, and must not simply be an excuse for a politician — or anyone else! — to make a cheap sentimental point: we must remember them in the way we treat their families, and in the way we treat their fellows who are still living, and in the way we choose to exercise the precious freedoms we have been given.