Once again America marks the unofficial beginning of summer by remembering men and women who fought and died during conflict. Aaron Kilbourn once wrote, "The dead soldier's silence sings our national anthem." Each generation seems to require the sacrifice of young lives to convince us anew the cost of freedom. Although lives are lost on both sides of conflict, the causes for which antagonists fight are vastly different. Tyranny must be faced and freedom's cause must be defended. Surely the heavens weep when men take up arms to kill and subjugate their fellow beings -- especially when they claim to be doing it for the sake of faith. Some of the truest words ever written were forever memorialized in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Those who would deny these unalienable rights by force must be countered just as forcibly. The cause of freedom can't afford bystanders.
Honoring those who died defending freedom, Francis Marion Crawford penned, "They fell, but o'er their glorious grave, Floats free the banner of the cause they died to save." I'm not sure that any grave is glorious -- deeds can be glorious, acts can be courageous, but the grave of a fallen soldier represents a future lost. I'd prefer a generation of young people living glorious lives filled with potential and hope to a generation of young people who once again find themselves sacrificing their future on the altar of conflict. Unfortunately, that altar continues to drip red with blood.
Two years ago, journalist Sebastian Junger posted a video that reminds us that remembering those who gave their lives is certainly important, but it is also important to remember who returned alive -- but changed forever.
One way of honoring returning veterans is to employ them. Retired General Stan McChrystal notes that "roughly 195,000 post-9/11 veterans remain unemployed. Veterans need the support of American businesses. And businesses need the experience, skills and mindset that veterans have to offer." ["From Forward Operating Base to Boardroom," Wall Street Journal, 20 May 2012] He continues:
"For current missions and future threats, we need the military to continue to attract the best the country has to offer. And when their service in uniform is done, we need to ensure veterans are recognized as assets to our communities, companies, schools and government. Most importantly, we need to have their backs. And the best way to show appreciation to our service members is to hire them."
Take a moment this Memorial Day to remember both the living and dead who have willingly offered their lives for freedom's cause. Freedom will only survive as long as men and women are willing to fight for it. Elizabeth Barrett Browning encouraged each of us to engage in freedom's battle. Let "each man stand with his face in the light of his own drawn sword," she wrote. "Ready to do what a hero can."