Day to remember

Memorial: The need for some to give their lives for their country, unfortunately, has not gone away.

May 29, 2000

PERHAPS the British have it right. Today is Bank Holiday in the United Kingdom. The banks are closed. Hardly anybody went to work. What the holiday may once have commemorated is officially forgotten. It's the spring bank holiday creating a three-day weekend, and that's the point.

It is also Memorial Day in the United States. We are halfway to the British system. Memorial Day, once Remembrance Day, used to be May 30, tomorrow. Now it is the last Monday in May, three-day weekend guaranteed. Most people like it that way.

The day began as a solemn commemoration of the soldiers who gave their lives for the Union in the Civil War, and then for those of both sides, and then for those of other wars, and then of all wars.

Remembrance is still what the day is about, for those who have not forgotten.

How good it would be were the need past. But the nation still calls its young men and women to service.

In World War II, the moral clarity of sacrifice was clear. In the Cold War, the purpose provided a framework of understanding when the military would be used and why, even when many Americans disapproved.

Now the armed services are still ready for duty in harm's way. It may be peacekeeping, anti-terrorism or humanitarian. It is decided case by case. The framework for understanding eludes the nation's best thinkers. Certainly the reason is not always national security, narrowly defined. It may be the national interest, broadly defined.

The nation is still groping for an understanding of when and how much to use its mighty power. Meanwhile, it must continue to recruit many of the best and brightest to serve the national purpose.

There are sacrifices in the recent past, the pain still vivid to kin and survivors. The probability remains of sacrifices to come.

So it is too early in the nation's history to convert Memorial Day, to a mere Bank Holiday. It would be wonderful were no further sacrifices sought or made. There can be no confidence that such is the case.

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