By Jeremey Steiner / Herald Forum
Do a quick internet search for Memorial Day and you’ll find this moving message: All of the Best Memorial Day Mattress Sales. Or how about this warning from the esteemed New York Times: Don’t Travel on Memorial Day Weekend; Try New Restaurants Instead. Finally from the prominent People magazine: Thousands of Summer Dresses on Sale for Memorial Day.
Does this hallowed holiday of honoring the fallen heroes still have meaning in America?
Thankfully, in most cities its citizens still celebrate with parades, memorial services, patriotic speeches and flags honoring the fallen from former military service and wars.
This weekend marks the 155th Memorial Day anniversary. What began as Decoration Day, was most meaningful and fresh when the wounds of the Civil War had just recently scarred over; leaving more than 620,000 dead Americans. In 1868, veterans started this holiday by decorating the graves of Union soldiers, who died directly from the domestic threat of its own citizens.
Since then, America was forced to face foreign wars thousands of miles from its homeland. The profound impact from these distant wars is no less painful nor significant. Americans now mourn for past generations of fallen soldiers from military service stretching to WWII.
This Memorial Day marks 20 years since the U.S. entered into a war. In 2003, the U.S. military led the invasion into Iraq, which ended in 2011. President Biden recently ended the Afghanistan War; America’s longest war.
If our nation enters a period of no active wars, will an era of fewer fallen soldiers eventually mean less importance placed on Memorial Day? Will future generations give smaller significance to this dedicated day since they have no direct descendants connected to it? Will low military recruitment, articifical intelligence and drone technology take human soldiers out of the equation?
French economist Frédéric Bastiat famously said: “if goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.” Trade relations around the world have built strong bonds with America and our former foes, such as Vietnam, Japan and Germany are now our trading partners. This has also resulted in making the world a more peaceful place with less conflict and foreign threats.
Several recent surveys show a majority of Americans prefer diplomatic measures instead of a U.S. military presence throughout the world. With recruitment levels down in every branch of the military, the Pentagon has rightfully adapted by utilizing AI, drones and missile defense systems to deal with ongoing threats.
For good or bad, Americans have short memories. With the mood of our nation changing through time and with technological advancement, the new challenge will simply be to remember the past and those fallen. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said: “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.”
This past week, WNBA star Brittney Griner returned to her first basketball game and fans gave her a hero’s welcome. It was also the first time she stood for the national anthem. Her long ordeal in a Russian prison gave her a new patriotic perspective of gratitude. “Just being able to hear my national anthem, see my flag, I definitely want to stand,” she said. “I appreciate everything a little bit more, all of the small moments.”
On this Memorial Day, may we all find that moment to remember the fallen soldiers; the real heroes of our past.
Jeremy Steiner is executive producer for the nationally syndicated Michael Medved radio show and lives in Edmonds.