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This day is for those who gave all.

There are some who criticize celebrating Memorial Day by going to the beach or picnicking or barbequing. In a sense I understand their point. Memorial Day began as a remembrance of Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War, and by the twentieth century the remembrance had been expanded to include all fallen members of the US Armed Services. It is not to be confused with Veterans Day. Veterans today like to say (rightly), “All gave some, some gave all.” This day is for those who gave all. So it might seem odd that we remember the fallen by having a day of summer fun.

But why not? Is that not what they died for? I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ observation about the purpose of government:

It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects — military, political, economic and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden — that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.

The Armed Forces exist to ensure that the state survives, so the purpose of our military is to allow such moments as we enjoy on Memorial Day to go on. And so those who die in the service of the country, die for that.

Now that may seem a trivial thing to die for, but it is not. To live in peace and freedom is not cheaply bought. Retired Air Force Colonel Walter Hitchcock famously observed that “freedom is not free” and from the era of the American Revolution to the present day there have been those of our countrymen who have been willing to sacrifice everything so that others might be free. And in the United States, like it or not, the freedom that they died for was the freedom to go to the beach and have a barbeque, and all of the other things that constitute “ordinary happiness.”

So in a way, if we are able to spend some time enjoying ourselves and our loved ones on Memorial Day, that is as great a monument as can be erected for the fallen. Just let us not forget the price that was paid.

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