Editorial: A smart way to honor fallen veterans on Memorial Day

Honor those who lost their lives in uniform by being more thoughtful about sending service members into harm’s way.
Times (2010)
Times (2010)
Published May 20
Updated May 27

This Memorial Day finds American military personnel still serving as the front line of defense at major flash points across the globe. Their commitment is a reminder of the evolving challenges to American security, to the debt this nation owes its military families and to the responsibility that America’s leaders and the public have in deciding whether to deploy troops into conflicts abroad.

The nation’s sacrifices in Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere in recent years speak to the expansive nature of protecting America’s national security - and the obligation that comes with getting our national priorities straight. With no clear end in sight to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, and with tensions rising with Iran and the face-off with Venezuela, the nation needs to clearly understand the implications of even threatening military involvement. Sending the wrong signal can enable crises to escalate. And a heightened war footing also can reduce the number of diplomatic options that could serve as viable alternatives to military action.

There is no greater way this Memorial Day to honor those in uniform who lost their lives than to be more thoughtful as a nation about sending service members into harm’s way. As the world’s greatest democracy and military power, America has long played a singular role in promoting global security. Whether the threat was Nazi tyranny in the last century or global terror in this one, the demands on this nation always have been great. And those obligations are falling increasingly on a small share of American citizens. The nation’s leaders and the public owe them the greatest consideration in calling on them and their families to put the nation before themselves.

This Memorial Day, then, is a moment to honor all those killed in America’s wars by recognizing the responsibility all citizens have to deploy American forces more wisely. The saber-rattling in Washington over Iran fails that test by ignoring the better diplomatic options for containing Tehran’s military ambitions. The Trump administration achieved a breakthrough in opening a dialogue with North Korea over its nuclear threat, though the prospects of a substantive deal look uncertain. Across the board, the United States needs to speak with greater consistency about the policies it will pursue and work more closely with its allies and regional partners on practical security agreements that can stand the test of time.

To many Americans, Memorial Day is a holiday that marks the unofficial beginning of summer, a day off from work to mark the start of vacation season. But the solemnness of the holiday cannot be forgotten; nor can the need to pay Memorial Day forward by not taking those in uniform today for granted. America’s leaders, and the public, must be clear about distinguishing the nation’s wants from its vital national interests. They must be honest about the risks of military adventures abroad and the price that military families would disproportionately face. And they must recognize the long-term commitment needed to follow through on both conventional wars and special operations assignments.

Memorial Day is an occasion to honor those who have died by promising service members that the nation’s gratitude for its fallen warriors comes with an awesome and enduring public trust.