Considering that much of our nation is only now emerging from a COVID-19 cocoon of precautions and anxieties, expect this Memorial Day weekend to be a more joyous occasion than last year’s. Yet it would behoove each of us to pause amid our backyard barbecues and outdoor beach and park excursions to consider Memorial Day’s gravest obligation: reflecting on wartime deaths in faraway climes so we can sleep snug in our beds at night and work and play confident in our safety in a dangerous world. Mute stone markers of war dead in our cemeteries also beg us to redouble our role as homefront patriots in gauging the wisdom and judgment of our leaders in committing more of our military in harm’s way.
The threats are many. For instance, politicians have railed often about China — everything from its irresponsibility in managing what exploded into a global pandemic to its seeming delight in North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s bellicosity to China’s growing militarization in the Pacific. What happens if China calls our bluff on long-held political vows to safeguard Taiwan (even though the United States is not so treaty-bound)? If China were to invade Taiwan without much more than saber-rattling in response from the United States, what would this say for our fast-fraying ties with Pacific nations already doubtful about our presence and resolve in the Pacific? Lessons of World War II beckon.
While in some respects the Biden administration seems set on pursuing the aims of the previous president by withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a significant question should dog all thinking Americans: Do we risk abandoning hard-won gains that troops accomplished over two decades of fighting, accomplishments for which many U.S. troops perished? Americans this Memorial Day should also reflect on the questionable 2003 invasion of Iraq: Our Arab friends in a misunderstood part of the world warned U.S. leadership back then not to neglect the intense hatred between the Sunni and Shia — and that our invasion, if successful in toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, might upset the balance of power in the Middle East and empower Iran. And so it came to pass.
The list goes on and on, including Russia’s ambitions, but two points are clear: First, geopolitics is an extraordinarily complicated sphere, defying any bumper-sticker mentality. It involves unappreciated and overlooked dynamics in religion, culture, history and politics that we may not initially grasp from our armchair. Second, if we truly respect those serving in our armed forces, if we take seriously lives lost overseas battling on behalf of what may or may not be U.S. interests, then all would be better served if we spent more time questioning and scrutinizing U.S. interests and learning more about the world so we can raise legitimate concerns when our leaders ponder committing troops to hostile environments.
And unlike some past wars, we might better demonstrate homefront patriotism if and when warfare erupts by looking past those showy, look-at-me “Support our troops” bumper stickers and paying our federal taxes without complaint just so long as our men and women serve in harm’s way.