Much is made of the fact that this country has been at war in Afghanistan for more than a decade, the countrys longest war, and that conventional troops when they left Iraq in late 2011 had been there for more than eight years.
The training ground that Osama bin Laden used to launch al-Qaidas attacks on the United States had largely been defused by U.S. support of the Northern Alliance, only to have it flare up again when the U.S. turned its attention to Iraq where Saddam Hussein was thought to have weapons of mass destruction.
Now, American troops are expected to be out of Afghanistan in 2014.
Memorial Day is not just about these two long wars and the men and women who have given their lives in an attempt to create a safer world and to give residents of the Middle East a start on a better future. Memorial Day dates to the spring of 1866, when almost simultaneously the residents of several cities and towns in the South decided to designate a day to remember their military dead. The Civil War had ended a year earlier, and both the South and the North had suffered a huge number of fatalities.
World War I and World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam have added dearly to the reason behind Memorial Day.
The continuing war in Afghanistan, like the recent war in Iraq, is being fought without any immediate impacts on the majority of Americans. Under President George W. Bush taxes were decreased, and the cost of the wars was not a part of the federal budget. They are in the budget now, in Barack Obamas presidency, but taxes are unchanged.
Tires and gasoline are not rationed, collecting scrap steel is not necessary, and it is for fresh produce not for a Victory Garden that seeds are planted.
Most Americans have been very, very fortunate.
Those who have lost a family member in Iraq or in Afghanistan have not. They know the terrible tragedy of war, and the imprint it has made on them will remain always.
When the price of war in human terms is so distant, and the memories of World War II, Korea and Vietnam have either faded or are unknown to anyone younger than 45 or so, it is easy to have only a murky sense of the significance of Memorial Day. Today, notice the flags flying and the sound of the rifle salutes. Take at least a few minutes to think of those who have given their life to keep this country free. Once a year is not too much to ask.
They deserve that.