WASHINGTON, May 25, 2015 — Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer. Traditionally, we celebrate it with picnics and family gatherings. But we should also remember that Memorial Day is a national holiday dedicated to those who have died in America’s wars. More than that, it is a day about all those men and women who made the supreme sacrifice when their country needed them the most.
Thanks to advances in medical and military technology, death tolls from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were far lower than they would have been in decades past. The number of wounded and damaged survivors, on the other hand, was larger. On Memorial Day, we should remember not just those who died in America’s wars, but also those who survived with less visible but no less real scars.
This Memorial Day, I’ll remember people like my great-grandfather and great-uncle, who both served in the U.S. Army and lived long lives after their service, as well as all the others I know who serve today. My great-grandfather was a man I always looked up to as the embodiment of those characteristics the American people expect to see in their servicemen and women.
In addition to remembering the sacrifices of America’s troops, this is a day to remember why they have gone to war. Whether fighting to save the world from brutal fascist dictators bent on world domination or sharing our blood and treasure to uphold American ideals of peace and prosperity for all, the reasons why America has sacrificed is as important as those who fought and died.
Today, the Islamic State continues to serve as a national security threat that could eventually draw America’s armed forces back into war. Even as the U.S. provides airstrikes, arms, intelligence and guidance to its regional partners in support of their efforts to battle the terrorist organization, calls for greater U.S. involvement are intensifying in the absence of coalition victories.
Associated with this issue, there is an increasingly great temptation for the U.S. to compromise in Ukraine and in Syria to forge alliances with Russia, Iran and Syria’s Assad regime.
Fighting the Islamic State is as much in the interests of these parties as it is in ours. Some cooperation is necessary at least to prevent accidental conflict between those battling ISIS. But neither the Ukrainian people nor the Syrian people can be sacrificed to achieve victory over the Islamic State. Any short-term gain will come at a hefty cost in the long-term.
The Ukraine crisis is about preventing a powerful country like Russia from violating the sovereignty of weaker countries and the freedom of their peoples. It is about safeguarding America’s European allies and denying Russia the opportunity to reverse the results of the Cold War. Like the war against the Assad regime, and indeed many other wars involving this country, it is about protecting the peoples of the world from tyrannical leaders and empowering them to make the world a safer place for democracy.