Monday will be the first Memorial Day in over 20 years with America officially at peace. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are finally over.
No American soldier is directly engaged in combat for the first time since terrorists attacked our country on September 11, 2001.
During the final withdrawal from Afghanistan last August, we lost 13 more of our warriors in an attack at Kabul airport, a stark reminder of the price we paid.
The withdrawal was messy and chaotic, but very few wars end in a clean and orderly fashion. However, the firing has stopped and our troops are not in danger in the Middle East.
And yet, it’s another tense and precarious Memorial Day. Until we are at war, peace is far away in the world today.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine resulted in several thousand deaths, both among soldiers on both sides and among civilians trapped between the armies.
America and its NATO allies are shipping weapons and supplies to help Ukraine repel the attack. President Joe Biden is walking a tightrope between supporting a democratic state and avoiding direct conflict with Russia.
Moreover, China is making threatening gestures towards Taiwan, another democratic state. If China tried to take Taiwan by force, Biden indicated the United States would defend it, a chilling prospect.
Although our long wars are over, our nation is a place of great sadness right now. Memorial Day was created in the 19th century after the Civil War, to honor the memory of the men and women killed in our bloodiest war.
Honoring those soldiers lost in war is still its main purpose, but it has evolved over the years to become the day we remember all the people we lost the year before.
This year in particular we have so many fresh graves and so many families grieving. Over a million of our compatriots have perished in the terrible COVID-19 pandemic, and the death toll continues to slowly rise.
We have never endured such a terrible tragedy, and it was made worse because our nation was deeply and unnecessarily divided over how to fight the disease, or even for a long time whether it was real. So many thousands of people have been slaughtered because they refused life-saving vaccines.
In addition to the deaths from the plague, two recent mass murders have reminded us of the toll that gun violence takes in our country, more than anywhere else in the world.
On Tuesday, a gunman entered a Texas school and shot and killed 19 small children – fourth graders aged 9 and 10 – and two teachers. The carnage in Texas followed just days after 10 black victims were massacred in a Buffalo supermarket, allegedly by a white nationalist gunman.
The violence was shocking and horrifying but also not really surprising. Gun violence in this country is so common, a daily occurrence.
In 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 19,000 people were murdered with firearms in the United States. More than 24,000 others died by suicide. No more torn families; cooler graves.
Over the decades, Memorial Day has become the unofficial start of summer, a day of picnics and parades, trips to the beach or the mountains, wherever families gather.
We ask that you take a moment this weekend to think of all the families who are grieving this year, grieving for those who have died of illness or violence.
Above all, we want to remind you of the men and women who have chosen to defend this country and its interests by serving in the army.
The 13 Americans killed last August in Kabul – the latest victims of the Middle East war – were among nearly 7,000 soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the longest war in American history.
For a century and a half, Americans have paused on Remembrance Day to think of the men and women who fought in our wars and the thousands of them who did not return to their families.
Those who willingly put themselves in harm’s way and made the ultimate sacrifice deserve the thanks of a grateful nation.