The meaning of Memorial Day

America will celebrate Memorial Day in 2016 with the two presidential candidates, for the first time ever, having never been part of those armed services whose sacrifice we honor on that holiday.

What causes young men to bleed and to die in another hemisphere?  What led brave men to fight and die in the Civil War or in our War of Independence? 

The drone of politics today is all about the economy.  People have plenty to eat and live in larger homes and apartments than our grandparents did.  Medical care is much better now than thirty years ago.  We live longer and have access to much more information and many more goods than in the past.  Our greatest health problems are obesity and inactivity, and our greatest mental health problems are boredom and addiction to artificial recreation, and yet our biggest problem is...the economy?

There is virtue in prosperity and wisdom in efficient development of economic resources, but men do not die in foreign lands or in bloody battlefields in their own land for the sake of relative prosperity or to raise home prices.  Young men fight and die for values much greater than the modestly important matters of income and entitlements and education. 

America on Memorial Day honors those men who gave their lives so that we can be free.  The language of our Declaration of Independence, of the Preamble to our Constitution, of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, of Kennedy's Inaugural Address, and of Reagan's famous proclamation at the Berlin Wall all define defense of liberty as something that costs lives as well as money because the sacrifice of blood is worth much more than any fortune or empire.

In this presidential election year, it is high time to recall and to restate what our national policies should be toward those who have given their lives and their limbs for our liberty.  The disgrace of our Veterans Administration, of course, ought to be noted, but beyond that, here is what the sacrifices of our bravest men demand from the rest of us, especially our politicians.

First, spend whatever it takes for us to win wars and battles, and always spend more treasure for defense than blood for defense.  Gold-plate our military.  Provide the best equipment and the best training possible.  Make sure each man who risks his life in combat for us has the same hardware that we would want if that man were our father or brother or son. 

Second, never let crass politics or chic social engineering endanger our men in military actions or operations.  This means not just that we do not send in forces or conduct drone strikes just to make our hapless president look less incompetent; it also means an end to such grotesqueries as politically demanding that women be allowed in combat, knowing that this creates battlefield hazards and lowers combat efficiency.

Third, it means that our goals in military actions deserve to be clearly defined by the political leaders who put our men in harm's way.  At a minimum, Congress ought to be fully informed and consulted, and unless circumstances prevent it, the constitutional power of Congress – and Congress alone – to declare war ought to be respected.  If we lack any real goal in waging war, then our political leaders ought never to set our nation's forces into combat. 

Fourth, our goal any time we fight must always be to win.  The defeat of those who threaten us and threaten our liberty must always be the ultimate purpose of any military action.  Good leaders like Reagan may be blessed enough to hand us total victory with little or no bloodshed, but that works only when that ultimate goal is victory, not meandering from place to place looking at public opinion polls or the popularity of our leaders with other nations.

We are today in the middle of global war – the longest war in our nation's history – and those men who have been giving their blood, sweat, and tears to keep us free and safe deserve our thanks and our love.  But they also deserve from us the best leadership that we can give them.  That ought to be high on the minds of voters in November. 

America will celebrate Memorial Day in 2016 with the two presidential candidates, for the first time ever, having never been part of those armed services whose sacrifice we honor on that holiday.

What causes young men to bleed and to die in another hemisphere?  What led brave men to fight and die in the Civil War or in our War of Independence? 

The drone of politics today is all about the economy.  People have plenty to eat and live in larger homes and apartments than our grandparents did.  Medical care is much better now than thirty years ago.  We live longer and have access to much more information and many more goods than in the past.  Our greatest health problems are obesity and inactivity, and our greatest mental health problems are boredom and addiction to artificial recreation, and yet our biggest problem is...the economy?

There is virtue in prosperity and wisdom in efficient development of economic resources, but men do not die in foreign lands or in bloody battlefields in their own land for the sake of relative prosperity or to raise home prices.  Young men fight and die for values much greater than the modestly important matters of income and entitlements and education. 

America on Memorial Day honors those men who gave their lives so that we can be free.  The language of our Declaration of Independence, of the Preamble to our Constitution, of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, of Kennedy's Inaugural Address, and of Reagan's famous proclamation at the Berlin Wall all define defense of liberty as something that costs lives as well as money because the sacrifice of blood is worth much more than any fortune or empire.

In this presidential election year, it is high time to recall and to restate what our national policies should be toward those who have given their lives and their limbs for our liberty.  The disgrace of our Veterans Administration, of course, ought to be noted, but beyond that, here is what the sacrifices of our bravest men demand from the rest of us, especially our politicians.

First, spend whatever it takes for us to win wars and battles, and always spend more treasure for defense than blood for defense.  Gold-plate our military.  Provide the best equipment and the best training possible.  Make sure each man who risks his life in combat for us has the same hardware that we would want if that man were our father or brother or son. 

Second, never let crass politics or chic social engineering endanger our men in military actions or operations.  This means not just that we do not send in forces or conduct drone strikes just to make our hapless president look less incompetent; it also means an end to such grotesqueries as politically demanding that women be allowed in combat, knowing that this creates battlefield hazards and lowers combat efficiency.

Third, it means that our goals in military actions deserve to be clearly defined by the political leaders who put our men in harm's way.  At a minimum, Congress ought to be fully informed and consulted, and unless circumstances prevent it, the constitutional power of Congress – and Congress alone – to declare war ought to be respected.  If we lack any real goal in waging war, then our political leaders ought never to set our nation's forces into combat. 

Fourth, our goal any time we fight must always be to win.  The defeat of those who threaten us and threaten our liberty must always be the ultimate purpose of any military action.  Good leaders like Reagan may be blessed enough to hand us total victory with little or no bloodshed, but that works only when that ultimate goal is victory, not meandering from place to place looking at public opinion polls or the popularity of our leaders with other nations.

We are today in the middle of global war – the longest war in our nation's history – and those men who have been giving their blood, sweat, and tears to keep us free and safe deserve our thanks and our love.  But they also deserve from us the best leadership that we can give them.  That ought to be high on the minds of voters in November.