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EDITORIAL: Are we really honoring our war dead?
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EDITORIAL: Are we really honoring our war dead?

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Memorial Day

A man rests his hand over his heart during a Memorial Day ceremony, Monday, May 27, 2019, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In a little more than a month, on July 4th, we’ll celebrate once again our nation’s independence.

Today, though, is the day we should remember how we kept that independence and what we’ve done with it since.

Perhaps we also ought to spend some time thinking about what those who gave their life for their country intended and whether we’re living up to the spirit of their sacrifice.

The soldiers of the American Revolution risked their lives—and 25,000 gave those lives—so that we could govern ourselves.

During the War of 1812, another 15,000 gave their lives to defend that independence.

During the Civil War, 364,511 men on the Union side gave their lives to hold that nation together.

During the course of our independence, we have 59 times elected a president, with power routinely passing back and forth from one party to another—something considered unthinkable in much of the world.

Yet only once has a losing candidate called on supporters to come to Washington for a “wild” protest.” And only once have some of those supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a failed bid to stop Congress from carrying out its constitutional duties.

Let there be no mistake: Every single one of those who did so on Jan. 6 broke faith with the more than 1.35 million Americans who over the centuries have laid down their lives in the service of this country.

There are those—you know who they are—who would like to minimize what happened on Jan. 6, to forget it ever happened, to move on. Oddly, these are often the same people who warn us that taking down a statue will somehow “erase history.”

History can, indeed, be erased, but the presence or absence of statues has little to do with that. History gets erased when we forget or, in some cases, choose not to remember. Memorial Day is about the very opposite of that.

It is about remembering. Indeed, in many countries their version of Memorial Day is called Remembrance Day. So let’s remember—and not just the platitudes, either.

Are we doing right by those who died for their country? That shouldn’t just be about laying a wreath, but about how we live our lives. Some today complain about having to wear a mask to protect their fellow citizens from a highly transmissible virus. Let there be no mistake about this either: Such people are confusing their rights with their responsibilities, as if the former has no relationship to the latter.

All you have to do to protect your neighbors is wear a simple cloth across your face when you go to the store? We should remember that before us there were millions of Americans who were called upon to wear a uniform and risk getting shot at—and many never came back. Those who complain today about wearing a mask are breaking faith with all of them.

Only rarely in our history has an enemy made its way to our shores, which is one reason we remember with such clarity Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, why our national anthem conjures up memories of Fort McHenry.

Here, an enemy has invaded us—an invisible virus, but an enemy all the same. Yet all we have to do to fight this invader is to wear a mask, abide by some simple rules, and get a vaccination?

All those Americans we remember today made far greater sacrifices—real sacrifices. We don’t have to run into cannon fire at The Wilderness. We don’t have to charge across a bullet-ridden beach in France. We don’t have to trudge across a frozen reservoir at Chosin. We don’t have to fight in jungles or in deserts. Those Americans we remember today answered a call to arms; today we need only answer a call for arms.

We are a free nation today partly because of a vaccination.

In 1777, smallpox was running rampant through America’s young army. Disease threatened to defeat the Americans before the British could. Immunization was in its infancy.

George Washington made a risky decision: He intended to inoculate every soldier in his army, the first time such a mass immunization had ever been tried.

The process then wasn’t as painless as it is now; it required an incision and the recuperation required a month. The fatality rate ran as high as 10%.

Washington decided to do it anyway. We remember Valley Forge as the place where Washington’s army nearly froze to death, but didn’t. We forget that Valley Forge was also the place where the army got inoculated—just one of many deprivations the soldiers suffered through that winter.

It’s not too much to say that American owes its independence to an immunization. That mass inoculation against smallpox didn’t win the war, but the lack of it could have lost the war.

Today is set aside to remember all those Americans who have died gruesome deaths so that we might live in freedom and prosperity. In particular, let’s think about those who died in our very first war.

Did they die so that today we could blithely act is if our neighbors are no concern of ours?

No, they died so that we, as Americans, could make our own decisions. So today, let’s honor them by not making poor ones.

Adapted from The Roanoke Times

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