For many people, Memorial Day functions as a day off work. In fact, many people hardly know why we celebrate Memorial Day. Thankfully though, in recent years, people have slowly become more aware of what Memorial Day stands for. But I do wonder if we recognize the true importance of this day.
There is a line from the movie Amistad, where the character of John Quincy Adams says, “Freedom is not given to us, it is our right at birth, but there are times where it must be taken.” The sentiment of our rights being God-given is not only within the Constitution, but essential to our Constitution. That there exists those who would seek to take away our freedoms shows there are times where such freedoms must be taken or protected by force, and with this force comes a loss of life.
We cannot deny that war is evil, but what makes it completely evil is that it is unnecessarily necessary. What I mean is that were it not for those who seek to control men with an iron fist, were it not for those who desire to eradicate freedom and instead place a certain ideology in charge of the government, there would be no need for war, no need for a loss of life. But because such evil men exist and because freedom is something worth dying for, war remains necessary, but also evil.
It is through such sacrifices that our won freedom has been preserved. We celebrate Memorial Day because, to put it quite bluntly, there are those who gave their lives so that we wouldn’t have to, those who paid a debt to the bank of freedom so that we might enjoy the payout. We remember those who fought bravely in the American War for Independence and the subsequent War of 1812, where our freedom was first won and then secured.
In the Civil War soldiers from the Union fought to preserve our nation and fought to abolish slavery. Young men, boys by today’s standard, stood in a line and took round after round, giving their lives, so that our union might be preserved and an entire race of people might find freedom. Some of them were so young that they wouldn’t even qualify for a driver’s license in many states today. Were many of these soldiers alive today they would be busy playing video games, getting ready for the school dance, or taking a summer job. Instead, so many years ago, these young men gave their lives so that freedom might prevail over the tyranny of slavery.
In WWI American lives were spent attempting to secure peace in Europe and to finally end the wars of expansion. In WWII – the most justified war America has ever entered into – American lives were sacrificed in order to turn back Hitler. Had we not entered the war Hitler still would have lost to the Soviets, but how much of Europe would have fallen under the command of the Soviets? When the young men of America stormed the beaches of Normandy, freedom once again showed that it would always prevail over tyranny, but it came at a cost. Freedom was secured, but it was paid for by the blood of these men and by the tears of the numerous widows, children, mothers and fathers back home.
In the Pacific Americans fought and died in order to prevent the expansion of Imperial Japan, the same empire that tortured and harassed the people under their rule. Many Americans lost their lives in the Pacific so that many Americans today could enjoy the freedom to live without fear, to go where they please, and to enjoy having their own government rather than that of a foreign occupier.
In Korea and Vietnam American lives were given in order to secure freedom for far away lands. Many would argue that these were unjust wars, that we should have simply avoided conflict. Yet, many Americans still answered the call of the government to serve and subsequently gave their lives. We see this happening today both in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There have been numerous conflicts where Americans have given their lives. Not all of these conflicts have been just (look at the lives lost in the wars with the Native Americans). As a rule, however, we should be forever thankful for those who have willingly sacrificed their lives for our freedom. That I can sit here and type out a thankful note, or alternatively that I could criticize America, is not a freedom that should be taken for granted; rather we should recognize that someone else paid the price for our right to speak freely, to move about the nation freely, and so on.
Finally, in recognizing the freedoms secured by the loss of life, we should seek to preserve those freedoms rather than throw them away and make the sacrifice of the many in vain. Today we see Americans capitulating to fear and surrendering their freedoms. We see Americans giving up their freedom of speech in order to avoid offending someone. We see Americans giving up their freedom to bear arms in order to “prevent crime.” We see Americans giving up their right to due process in order to board a plane because we’re so afraid of death that we’ve forgotten how to live. Our fear of death and of terrorism has forced us to unwittingly surrender the very freedoms we’re supposedly fighting for.
Aside from remembering those lost in our wars, Memorial Day should also teach us that some freedom is worth dying for. That maybe it is impossible to prevent all terrorist attacks in a free society, but that a free society with a threat of terrorism is better than a totalitarian society that is absent of terrorism; for is a life lived in a police state a life worth living? Is such a lifestyle worth protecting? I would submit that it is not. Rather, having a life of freedom is worth dying over, it is worth protecting, and if we should ever forget that then we should be honest and cease to celebrate Memorial Day. If we are willing to trade our freedoms for a bit of false security or personal peace, then we shouldn’t value those who gave their lives for the very freedoms we are willing to surrender, lest we insult their sacrifice. After all, rather than surrendering their God-given freedoms when someone threatened to take them away, they stood their ground and fought to take back those freedoms. That we should do the same is the ultimate memorial to their sacrifice.