We just had another Memorial Day weekend and it led me to ponder this holiday. Memorial Day has evolved with me over the years. I remember going on picnics back home in Michigan on Memorial Day weekend. With winter weather only a few weeks behind on that weekend, it was a real celebration of being outside. But even then, as a child, I found it odd we remembered the loss of so many with a picnic. In fact, it was only after several years of celebrating the holiday that I realized there was a connection between these picnics and a national tragedy.
The situation has further deteriorated as department store sales seem to take precedence over stories of heroism. Furthermore, to make things worse, it seems that we do not just honor those who sacrificed, but the wars themselves. I know, it may be hard to separate the two, but I think it is important for us to do just that. All of the wars the US fought were costly — both in dollars and lives. For many, we have little to show for them.
The best way to honor the fallen, is to make sure there are fewer that fall in the future.
I believe the United States is, largely, a nation of reactors. In the 1960s, when brave soldiers came back after the Vietnam War, they were often accused of being “baby killers” and were treated as criminals. It was unconscionable. It is even more horrific when one considers the fact that over 30 percent of these soldiers — over 17,000 — were conscripted to serve. They did not volunteer. They were victims of involuntary servitude. For many in this group, the objective was simply to survive. Treating them as criminals was simply bizarre. Meanwhile, those who volunteered, did not all sign up for any particular war.
By the 1980s, military service became widely respected again. The pendulum had swung in the opposite direction. Politicians in general began to create linkage between the worthiness of the soldier and the wars they fought. Since these were good people, who gave so much, it was only logical that it was for “worthy causes.” Over time, being critical of conflicts was seen as being hostile towards those who fought it, as patriotism took precedence over human lives. This is, of course, exactly what the politicians want. Forget about wrapping these wars in the American flag, politicians wrap them up in the sacrifice of those who fought them. This was a brilliant strategy, which has cost so many lives. The opposite is true. We should be extremely vigilant in making sure these wars are, in fact, worth US dollars and (more importantly) lives.
The best way to honor the fallen, is to make sure there are fewer that fall in the future. The way to pursue that is simple. Going forward, the US should only be allowed to take offensive military actions with countries (or entities, such as ISIS) that it has declared war against. The War Powers Act, which was designed to protect the country from immediate danger and the Constitution from a president who would go too far without Congress, has been ignored. It has become so weak, Trump disregarded it entirely in his unconstitutional war against Syria. It is amazing the President would inform the ally of the country he was striking, but not inform a single member of Congress. Meanwhile, he has done so without consequence. One can simply dismiss the War Powers Act as a remnant of the past.
It is time for the US to develop a mechanism to protect the Constitution, US lives, and those that would be sent to fight wars. A president should have the leverage to profoundly defend US interests in an attack, but never be allowed to be continually involved in global conflicts, like in Syria, without declaring war.
It is clear, the United States should only be in offense, when both houses of Congress has voted for such. That is, in fact, how wars are won. When members of Congress are forced to vote in favor of war, they get to deal with their constituents. They should have to explain to voters how the lost of their children was justified. With the current approach, members of Congress get to hide behind a president who either acted unilaterally or as part of an international coalition. Either way, US lives are continuously put on the line without clear objectives or a resolve to win. The only way you get that type of “buy in” from the American people, is to have members of Congress vote for every war. Approaching wars like this could prevent future soldiers from being harmed or killed. That is a great way to celebrate future Memorial Days.