The degree and intensity which Americans commemorate Memorial Day tends to rise and fall depending upon the nation's level of active involvement in a foreign conflict. During the height of the recent Iraq and Afghanistan operations — which produced a tragic number of American military deaths — the day was observed with greater solemnity than in years past.
Although our service men and women continue to fight and die in foreign lands, particularly Afghanistan, the military mission has substantially run its course and the media spotlight has moved on to the next big story. That, however, does not change the fact Americans remain in harm's way and the threats to our national security continue unabated.
Largely as a result of popular entertainment we expect any "story line" to be wrapped up by the end of a two-and-a-half hour movie or a one hour episode of CSI. The real world does not work that way. The "bad guys" are not defeated in a battle that has a neat beginning and ending. If anything, the lines marking progress, or lack of progress, are more blurred than ever. Unlike in the world wars, congress doesn't "declare war" anymore. From Korea to Afghanistan we have "conflicts" or "operations." The new terminology doesn't change the fact Americans are still fighting and dying. And we don't have official endings to such military ventures. There is no "V-J" day with jubilant celebrations in Times Square. We just sign "security agreements" meaning our presence in the foreign land will continue for the foreseeable future.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a rally for our troops on the steps of the state Capitol Building. The numbers were substantially less that when the event was first staged during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan missions. America has grown weary of wars that began after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and have dragged on ever since.
But the battle continues.
In a recent article for Imprimis, a pamphlet published by Hillsdale College, Brian T. Kennedy of the Claremont Institute sounded the alarm on the need for continued national defense by recalling the lessons taught by Harold Rood, a professor of international relations at Claremont-McKenna College who passed away in 2011. Mr. Rood was a soldier in General George Patton's army in World War II, so he knew and understood the nature of war and conflict from first-hand experience.
Said Kennedy: "He (Rood) taught his students that war is permanent to the human condition and that in war it is better to win, for no one ever had to accommodate a loser. America will always have enemies, he told them, and those enemies will forever be planning and expending resources to place themselves in a position to defeat us. It would be nice if it was otherwise, he was fond of saying, but it is not otherwise. It is the way the world works."
It is the way the world works.
This Memorial Day, as our nation's recent experiences in open warfare begin to fade, we would be wise to remember that our enemies around the world continue to plot against us. And as September 11, 2001 morphs from a current event into history we must remember the threat of terrorism within our borders also remains a constant.
That is why deep cuts to the American military now being undertaken in Washington, D.C. should be viewed with alarm. Just as "no one ever had to accommodate a loser," few are willing to challenge the biggest kid on the block. Or, as Ronald Reagan put it: "peace through strength." From the mid-east to Russia challenges to our national interests continue to grow as do the domestic threats to our nation's vital infrastructure from the electric grid to tele-communications systems. Now is not the time to be cutting back, now is the time to be gearing up to meet these challenges.
So this Memorial Day there are three thoughts that should be on the minds of Americans: First, we must continue to remember and venerate those who gave their lives so that this nation might prosper. Second, we must remember the need to always remain militarily strong and vigilant. And third, the reason why we do all of this, in the words of Abraham Lincoln: "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org)
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