I have mixed feelings about Memorial Day. I certainly recognize the men and women of the U.S. armed forces who have died while serving the country. However, I also feel it is important that in this recognition, we do not glorify the phenomenon of war, which has brought so much pain and suffering to our world. Those who serve and die in the army are certainly courageous, but those that send young men and women off to die do not always exhibit the same degree of bravery. The ideal Memorial Day would be one where we no longer needed to recognize a new list of people who had died in conflict over the previous year.
War has been with humans ever since the beginning of civilization and probably beforehand. Through centuries, countless young people have died fighting for their country, tribe, family, cause, etc. In recognition of their bravery, we should also have the courage to admit that wars, even/often those in which the U.S. is a participant, are not always noble affairs. We should be careful to distinguish between the bravery of young people, the legitimacy of the conflict they are involved in, and the enterprise of war in general.
Every nation-state, except Costa Rica, needs an army. The soldiers who serve in these armies usually have little say in the actions they are asked to perform. However, statesmen who make decisions about war and peace have the power, and should have the wisdom, to decide when war is just and when it is not. Certainly a war like WWII was just and necessary. On the other hand, numerous other wars and military operations over the years have been more questionable. In general, leaders should be hesitant to go to war. They should be hesitant to put the lives of young people on the line. And their certainly is no glory in dying in a war. We aren't Klingons after all. Death in war is nothing but tragic and sad.
War should be avoided whenever possible. It seems like such a simple maxim, but for millennia war has plagued humanity. The most important step in reducing the phenomena of war is creating a culture that abhors war rather than glorifies it. A society that glorifies war is more likely to engage in the practice. A society that despises war is less likely to instigate an armed conflict. Instead of hailing the young people who have died in war as glorious, we should lament their deaths. We should admit that war is a gruesome and disgusting disease that infects our species.
Like a virus, war may never be completely eliminated from our world, but also like a virus, it may be managed. Perhaps we can potentially reduce the number and severity of wars and make war an option of last resort and most importantly refuse to glorify war, while still honoring those who have tragically died as a result of armed conflict.