Honor all who defend our liberties

Honor all who defend our liberties

On Memorial Day, according to the United States Code, the nation’s flag is to be displayed at half-staff until noon, when it is raised to full-staff.

The sentiment, it is said, is meant first to give reverence to the more than 1 million people who have died under arms in service to the country and then to the living who continue in their stead in defense of liberty.

Perhaps for some that notion has been lost, as Memorial Day has become a three-day weekend gateway to summer vacation, barbecues and road trips. But as we travel the flag-draped neighborhoods this weekend, the knowledge that our fellow Americans remain in harm’s way this Memorial Day should never be far from our minds. Nor the reasons they are there.

Those who carry on for their fallen predecessors take a sacred oath to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Ordering America’s youth into harm’s way in defense of that mandate is a solemn undertaking; volunteering to defend it even more so.

The siren song of war is but a drumbeat away. With conflict continuing in Ukraine, America is seemingly always involved in a war or military conflict somewhere on the planet. Many of the same people lamenting U.S. withdrawal from the pointless forever war in Afghanistan are now agitating for military action against drug cartels in Mexico or greater interventions on the other side of the planet. The allure of solutions via military violence remains sadly popular.

That is why it is so important to be sure that conflicts abroad really do involve the core interests of the United States — that they are not undertaken for reasons of petty pride or moralistic goading. There are reasons to doubt that some of the engagements Americans have been sent to in recent years fit these criteria. But there is no reason to doubt the bravery and devotion of those sent to fight those battles or the sacrifice of those who will not return to their loved ones.

Some call for a return of Memorial Day to its original date of observance, May 30, the day chosen when it was called Decoration Day, in 1868. They believe the change would restore the historical and solemn reflection to the holiday that for some has become simply the tail end of a three-day weekend.

The origins of the first Memorial Day are hard to place, though. After the Civil War, at different times in different places, it became customary to decorate the graves of Union and Confederate war dead. The practice itself is an ancient one, and was done in smaller settings across the country long before the War Between the States.

However, whatever the day, whatever it is called, and whenever or wherever it started, the reason remains the same. Each human life is precious, and each young person who makes the ultimate sacrifice deserves respect and honor, however wise or foolish the decisions of his or her superiors, this Memorial Day.

A version of this editorial was originally published in 2018.