It is the day when we pause to remember those who have died in service to our nation, from the Revolutionary War to the present day - those who, it's said, died to keep America free.
We question, and rightfully so, whether this war or that war is worthwhile enough to justify putting our teenagers and young adults in harm's way. We question the wisdom of a war that has no clear aim and no definable end, yet in which some of those uniformed young Americans as well as a number of innocent civilians are sure to lose their lives.
That does not mean we don't support our troops. Rather, it means we cherish their lives and we don't want them squandered. They are our children and friends and husbands and wives. We owe it to them to ask these questions, because as members of the armed forces, they are not permitted that luxury. They go because they are sent. Whether you believe the war in Iraq or any other war is just or unjust, right or wrong, wisdom or folly, you must recognize the fact that our troops are there because their commander-in-chief, the President of the United States, decided that they would go.
They go, knowing that they may be called upon to take human lives, or to sacrifice their own, or both. They go, and they do their duty as they understand it. They go where they are ordered to go; they do what they are ordered to do. And we are left at home to question the wisdom of their orders.
There is time the rest of the year to debate such matters - as we surely will over the next few months. This day we set aside to honor the memory of those who went and did not return.
The man generally acknowledged as the greatest American President in history - a Republican, as it happens - had a few words to say on ths subject nearly 141 years ago. His simple words ring as true today as when he first wrote them on the back of an envelope:
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate--we cannot consecrate--we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us,--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.