It’s very difficult to talk about Memorial Day in our country in an age when we have been so polarized about patriotism and the definition of our basic American values.
If we can allow ourselves to reflect on American values through the mirror of history, we can recall a time when we joined with allies in the world who stood for freedom and stood up to authoritarianism, oppression and violence. In the first World War, Americans lost their lives in a fight for freedom. At the end, when European nations struggled to reconstitute a normal free world, America failed to commit to the demands of peacetime rebuilding. We did not use our power to support peace and the result was the rise of Hitler, Mussolini and a global undemocratic wave. This led to the massive destruction of World War II, when again patriotic Americans paid the ultimate sacrifice to re-establish a moral world order. America’s “Greatest Generation” learned an important lesson that the United States could not pull back from the world, that American presence and power was needed to stand for freedom against authoritarianism.
When I think of those who fought for our country, they didn’t just fight for America, to defend our homeland, our people and our way of life — they also fought so that others may have a chance for freedom and democracy abroad.
On Memorial Day, we reflect upon the sacrifices of these brave American men and women in wartime, but also we should remember that Americans have made this ultimate sacrifice in peacetime as well, so that the chaos and destruction of war can be prevented. It remains critical that our nation stand up against the forces of authoritarianism where we can — and today, that is in Ukraine. If history has taught us anything, it should teach us that we cannot rest just because there is no world war. Our patriotic efforts must continue to fight for peace and a moral global order grounded in freedom.
As patriots, it’s horrifying to witness a major political party that has elevated a sexual predator as their leading candidate for president — someone who disparaged our global allies, threatened to pull us out of the greatest alliance in world history in NATO, said that he would deploy our military in domestic matters if he got back in the White House, and most unforgivably incited an insurrection against our very own capitol. They have elevated their most extreme right-wing members of Congress to key oversight positions, the same people who defend acts of releasing classified national security documents to score political points. They repeat Russian talking points about U.S. foreign policy, the Ukraine War, and our own election system.
We must be honest that this is where we are.
My friends who died in Afghanistan and in Iraq came from all over this country. They were women and men who came from different backgrounds, ethnicities, races, and religions. Some were conservative. Others were liberal. Some were in the middle or just didn’t care much about partisan politics.
But all of them gave the ultimate sacrifice while wearing the uniform of the greatest nation in the world today. I think the best way to honor them is to recommit ourselves to defending our democracy here at home.
This is what I intend to do. And I’m so grateful you’re in this fight alongside me.
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