Memorial Day, 2011

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, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address

The consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable. We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not — we will not — travel down that hellish path blindly. Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain.

Barack Obama, 2002 speech opposing going to war in Iraq

“I have vowed in the past, and I will vow so long as I’m president, to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain – that, in fact, there is an outcome that will merit the sacrifice.”

George W.  Bush,  after the U. S. death toll in Iraq reached 4,000

“We won’t talk about losing. There is enough talk about losing. What has been done this summer cannot have been done in vain.”

I did not say anything. I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them, on proclamations that were slapped up by billposters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it.

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Today is the day we remember them all, stolen from their families and their lives, irrecoverable this side of heaven. Today is the day we are asked to try, at least, to comprehend what they have done for us. To read true stories of combat–from Antietam to Iwo Jima, from Dien Ben Phu to Fallujah–is to have humility thrust upon one, and gratitude, not only for the excruciating devotion of the dead but for the fortunate fact that fate hasn’t required of one the same sacrifice. Not yet, anyway.

Dallas Morning News editorial, May 31, 2004


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