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Written by Steve Canyon

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): Remember their sacrifice, but also remember the reason they sacrificed.

The beginning of summer is marked by the Memorial Day holiday weekend.  Summer vacation begins for most children, pools open for the season, and families enjoy a 3-day opportunity to barbecue, picnic, or otherwise soak up some sunshine and fun.

Memorial Day began with a collection of mid-19th century independent local remembrances of war dead.  This gradually coalesced into a “Decoration Day” that had gained wide national acceptance by the 1890s.  The name “Memorial Day” became more prevalent after World War II, but it wouldn’t be until 1967 when it became a federally named holiday.

Memorial Day is often mistakenly used to celebrate all current and former service members.  Coupled with the beginning of summer revelry, it is easy to forget the intent and meaning of the day and the sacrifice of those for which it is named.

Allegiance to an idea

Throughout our nation’s history, various motivations have driven Americans into our nation’s service.  These factors range from economic incentives to skills development to love of the nation.  However, each American service member swears an oath of service that binds them to a collective duty to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.  Regardless of religious, political, or other dividing issue, each service member is united around the idea that the ideals and prescriptions enshrined in our founding document are worth protecting, even at the loss of their life.

This concept is revolutionary.  Traditionally, soliders swore fealty to a king or a ruling class.  Sometimes soldiers fought for a religious cause.  Many times, soldiers were motivated by their own desires and struck blows to further their personal interests.  However, the idea of swearing an oath to the concept of self rule under the aegis of codified laws was a heretofore unknown concept when Congress approved the first oath of service in 1789.

Remembering the reason

The past few years have seen the hyper politicization of everything in our nation and beyond.  One of the few remaining institutions in which a majority of Americans still have trust is the military.  That is perhaps because the military, with its transcendant oath of service, rises above the squables of daily political life.

As we embark on yet another Memorial Day weekend, perhaps we Americans could best honor the memory of our fallen warriors by rediscovering that to which they swore this unique oath.  Reacquaint ourselves with the Bill of Rights and its guarantee that such concepts as freedom of speech, association, religion, self protection, and many others are not granted by man, but rather divinely bestowed and therefore inviolable.  Reawaken our desire to be active participants in our governing system—a system that the Founders purposefully designed to prevent the accretion of power and therefore a necessarily messy, laborious process.  Most of all, understand that we have been bequeathed a tremendous gift that may only be perpetuated if we put in the effort to create that more perfect union of which the Founders spoke.

Memorial Day is a time for reflection.  Let us spend a moment to not just reflect on the sacrifice made by our deceased servicemembers, but also the ideal for which they sacrificed.

Steve Canyon is a retired military officer.

The Language of Liberty series is an outreach project of the Center for Self Governance, a non-profit, non-partisan educational organization, dedicated to training citizens in principles of liberty. The views expressed by the authors are their own and may not reflect the views of CSG. CenterForSelfGovernance.com


Word Count: 547

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