This past Monday, American's celebrated 'Murica by drinking too much light beer, grilling dead animal flesh and frolicking about in bodies of water from sea to shining sea. There was flag waving, thanking of veterans, and a complete missing of the point. Except for these guys:
The three soldiers pictured above are part of the Old Guard, and specifically they are the Sentinels. Their honorable duty is to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. You can read all about them here.
Memorial Day was established by an act of Congress in 1868 as "Decoration Day", but represents a much older tradition of annually honoring those who lost their lives in service to their country. Families and observants go to grave yards, decorate the graves of military service men, and even have picnics. That's how it's supposed to work, anyway. Instead, it's evolved into a combination 4th of July and Veterans day extravaganza, with parades, outdoor markets peddling wares, and flat-footed civvies thanking veterans for their service.
Just a note: thanking a veteran for their service on Memorial day is a little awkward, since the veteran is not dead. Speaking of things awkward - the drunken morons who get positively shitfaced, fire up the grill and burn the dogs to the blasting sounds of Garth Brooks. Nobody would think it appropriate to do this for September 11th, or for December 7th. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?
Let's now remember the 212,938 American servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives on the altar of freedom so that the Union would be preserved. Let's remember the 291,577 who died to rid the world of Fascism and Nazism. Let us also remember the 8,000 patriots who gave their lives for our Independence and the establishment of a Republic in a world of monarchies. Finally, let us remember the 145,000 who died in other military entanglements fought since our inception.
I use the phrase "entanglements" because in our history, we have committed our military to 24 prolonged combat engagements, but have only declared war five times. (Technically 8 - we declared war three separate times during WWII, first against Japan, then Germany and Italy, and finally on Bulgaria, Romania and Bulgaria after they joined the Axis.) Since then, the President of the United States - not Congress - enjoyed the power to commit us to war, and Congress assumed the role of merely authorizing the expenditure of funds for the war, though token resolutions of support are also concurrently made. This is de facto, not de jure. The War Powers Act of 1973, along with the Constitution, held that only Congress can authorize a war. They key being that while the Constitution specifies a declaration of war be made, the War Power Act only requires "statutory authorization," or as a response to "a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces."
If you look at the list of geographic theaters we have committed our military to in the past two decades, it becomes clear that we have committed our blood and treasure to causes that, while in American interests, are not directly in defense of our nation. Memorial Day is the time of the year we should stop, and solemnly ponder whether the mission was worth the risk of American lives. If there is ever any doubt, the answer should be no, but if the cause is just - as it was during WWII, the Revolution or the Civil War, then we should say "yes", and commit ourselves whole-heatedly to the endeavor starting with a formal declaration of war, and ending with the complete and utter destruction of our enemies will to oppose us. Then, as in those wars, once peace is achieved, our regard for our enemy should be - as Mr Lincoln put it - "..with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
Thank a veteran on Veterans Day (November 11th). Get piss drunk, eat red meat and make an ass of yourself on July 4th. But on Memorial Day, be solemn, respectful and reverent.