FOR 22 YEARS, a period longer than the time between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II, the United States has been blessedly free of conflict that inflicts death, injury and heartbreak in numbing numbers. For that, the nation should be thankful on this Memorial Day.
Total estimated U.S. casualty figures tell the story: Revolutionary War, 10,623; War of 1812, 6,765; Mexican War, 17,436; Civil War, 780,013; Spanish-American War, 4,108; World War I, 320,710; World War II, 1,076,162; Korean War, 136,935; Vietnam War, 211,471; Persian Gulf War, 760.
Since then, in major military actions, the U.S. has suffered 30 combat deaths in Somalia and none in Bosnia, the former a humanitarian effort that turned sour and the latter a peace-keeping operation that has left American forces relatively unharmed.
Reasons for this fortunate f fleeting turn of events are manifold. Revulsion to the butchery of the World Wars and their Cold War successors; fear of escalation into nuclear holocaust; the advent of television during the Vietnam conflict that brought carnage visibly into the American living room, the doctrine of overwhelming force that quickly vanquished Iraq and, finally, U.S. military dominance through unquestioned technological superiority.
These circumstances inspire the latest Pentagon decisions to continue development of futuristic weapons systems capable of destroying any conventional forces that might be arrayed against this country. If the status quo were to continue, Memorial Days would focus more and more on more distant conflicts. The current trend to put up memorials to wars once best put out of mind would be irresistible.
But the status quo is a chimera disappearing in the on-rush of international terrorism, electronic wizardry, the Third World's population explosion, the spread of common knowledge about how to make weapons of mass destruction and the specter of conflict not among nations but among civilizations with wholly different religious, cultural and economic roots.
To maintain a viable world will require wisdom, prudence and patience. If the fallen are truly to be honored on this Memorial Day, remembrance will not be enough. What is required is national dedication, repeated many times, to the goal of a peace based not just on military preparedness but on freedom, justice and equity everywhere. Such a utopia may be unattainable, but its pursuit by this generation is required if we are to be worthy of those who in the past made the ultimate sacrifice.
Pub Date: 5/26/97