Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day and This Republic: From the Revolution to WWI

By Zach Foster

No one ever thought the U.S.A. could handle nine and a half years of war—ten years this October—but somehow the country has muddled through it.  America can be proud of her sons and daughters, who continue to enlist, continue to serve, continue to fight, and continue to die.  Memorial Day is a special day in the year when all citizens are to pause and contemplate the price of freedom.  No, this is not just another tired and hollow patriotic slogan, though many have made it that way.

People need to think hard about what it is that makes this country—this republic and its citizens—so great.  People also need to stop and think why this country seems to be at war every generation.  Far left-wingers may put down their copy of Das Kapital long enough to spout some hateful slogans about U.S. imperialism and oil profits, etc., while far right-wingers may wave their flags in one hand and Bibles in the other, talking about how it’s our mission from God to democratize the whole planet, etc.  But really, what is it that the U.S. military accomplishes?

The Revolutionary War was a war that granted independence to thirteen North American colonies who no longer wished to be a part of their mother country.  It was largely a popular movement, though many Americans fought tooth and nail to keep the Crown in North America.  Their descendants are patriotic citizens of Canada.

The War of 1812 was a war of defense against obvious violations by the old mother country.  It was a just cause and a just war.  The Indian Wars were a mix of tragedies—some wars provoked by native tribes, and some wars provoked by settlers. Some tribes were wiped from existence or relocated, while other tribes fought old enemies side by side with the U.S. Army.  The result of the Indian Wars was the subjugation of countless nations that left many on reservations and most integrated in Western society.

The Civil War’s meaning highly depends on what region of the country the beholder is from, and what the beholder’s belief is.  To some, the Republic and the Union had to be preserved at all costs.  To others, independence from a new government ever-resembling Great Britain was a worthy cause.  To all, the war was a tragedy which literally pitted brother against brother and father against son.  Regardless of ideology, the men and women—soldiers, sailors, surgeons, and nurses both in blue and in gray, at Manassas, Shiloh, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, Indian Territory, New Mexico, Nashville, Chicamauga, Fort Wagner, Fort Fisher, and Petersburg—fought and struggled with honor for what they believed in.  After the end, they did their best to pick up the pieces.  The country’s scars are only beginning to heal, and such a conflict—such fratricide—must never happen again.

The Mexican and Spanish wars were wars of empire, in which eager administrations wanted to flex their muscles, in which countries and peoples found themselves liberated from one master only to be ruled by a new one.  Outside the arena of politics, the American soldiers who fought in those wars were honorable soldiers who answered the call to service.  They fought hard, many of them died, and they did their duty.  There is nothing more a government can ask of its people.  Furthermore, their sacrifice led to a higher living standard for those who were brought under the stars and stripes.

World War I was a war of entanglement.  Every major power seemed to be in an alliance that eventually forced them into a war of prestige—whose army and country was the strongest—that eventually yanked the United States into the bloodiest war in human history thus far.  Many bad things happened after the war—not because our soldiers fought so bravely and selflessly—but because world leaders threw away a hard-won peace, allowing it to fester into a new hatred and a new war.  Still, it is without a doubt that the sacrifices made by American service members literally saved Paris from German occupation and liberated Belgium and Luxemburg from German subjugation.  Because of these selfless sacrifices that saved so many people, the blood and tears of the sailors who drowned in the Atlantic, the soldiers in shallow graves in Blanc Mont Ridge, and the Marines yet unidentified in Belleau Wood will never be in vain.

Continued in Part 2: From WWII to the War on Terror

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