For too many Americans, Memorial Day is just another three-day weekend. It’s the unofficial start of summer, a good reason to picnic, barbecue, play lawn games or escape town for few days.
But some people still remember the true reason for Memorial Day. Families who have lost loved ones in conflicts a world away, students and adults who paid attention in civics class — all will take time to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice that so many American military personnel have made to protect the freedoms we all enjoy.
Those sacrifices continue today. President Barack Obama has broken his promise to withdraw from America’s wars in the Middle East. His successor will take office with troops on the ground in Afghanistan, and Americans will hear that a “military adviser” or other American identified by a euphemism has been killed or wounded in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere.
Whoever wins the White House in 2016 will immediately become a wartime president, and the two top contenders are unlikely to change course. Hawks like Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump could keep us in wars for years to come, and the result will be more dead and wounded to remember on Memorial Day.
Indeed, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, often touted as a front-runner to be Clinton’s running mate, wants Congress to authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State. It would become one more justification to send Americans into harm’s way with nebulous objectives.
Peace will not be on the ballot in November.
That makes it all the more important that Americans remember the price our nation pays in blood for war.
Memorial Day originated in the aftermath of the Civil War. A group of Northern veterans established Decoration Day when, quite literally, Americans were encouraged to decorate the graves of that terrible war’s dead.
Southern states that had lost the war and suffered under Reconstruction skipped Decoration Day and instead marked Confederate-specific days to honor their own dead.
Slowly, however, acceptance of the unofficial holiday spread, and by the start of the 20th century rebranded Memorial Day ceremonies took place throughout the country. They became even more prominent after World War I as a day to honor the dead from all American wars.
Congress made Memorial Day official in 1971, setting it on the last Monday of May.
Take a moment this weekend away from your picnic to remember those who died or were injured ... and those who will die or be injured in the months ahead.