Celebrate Memorial Day by Reducing the Number of Deaths in Wars

We are in the middle of another Memorial Day weekend and it has led this writer to ponder this holiday. The view of Memorial Day has evolved with this writer over the years. As a child growing up in Michigan, families looked forward to picnics and just being outdoors on Memorial Day weekend. With winter weather only a few weeks behind on that weekend, it was a real celebration of simply being outside. But even then, as children, it seemed odd our nation remembered the loss of so many with a picnic. In fact, it was only after many years of celebrating the holiday that it sunk in there was a disconnect between these picnics and a national tragedy.

The situation has gotten even worse as department store sales seem to take precedence over stories of heroism. Furthermore, as it further deteriorates, it seems that we do not just honor those who sacrificed, but the wars themselves. It may be hard to separate the two, but it is important for us to do just that. All of the wars the US fought were costly — both in dollars and lives. For many, we have little to show for them.

The United States is a nation of reactors. In the 1960s, when brave soldiers came back after the Vietnam War, they were often accused of being “baby killers” and were treated as criminals. It was unconscionable. It is even more horrific when one considers the fact that over 30 percent of these soldiers — over 17,000 — were conscripted to serve. They did not volunteer. They were victims of involuntary servitude. For many in this group, the objective was simply to survive. Treating them as criminals was simply bizarre. Meanwhile, those who volunteered, did not all sign up for any particular war.

By the 1980s, military service became widely respected again. The pendulum had swung in the exact opposite direction. Politicians began to create linkage between the worthiness of the soldier and the wars they fought. Since these were good people, who often sacrificed so much, it was only “logical” that it was for “worthy causes.” Over time, being critical of conflicts was seen as being hostile towards those who fought in them, as patriotism took precedence over human lives and liberty itself. This is, of course, exactly what the politicians wanted. Forget about wrapping these wars in the American flag, politicians wrap them up in something even more sacred — the sacrifice of those who fought these wars. This was a brilliant (and cynical) strategy, which has cost so many lives. We should be extremely vigilant in making sure these wars are, in fact, worth US dollars and (more importantly) lives.

The best way to honor the fallen, is to make sure we significantly reduce the number that falls in the future. The way to pursue that is simple. Going forward, the US should limit all offensive military actions with countries (or entities, such as ISIS) to those Congress has declared war against. The War Powers Act, which was designed to protect the country from immediate danger and the Constitution from a President who would go too far without Congress, has been ignored. It has become so weak, Trump disregarded it entirely in his unconstitutional war against Syria. It is amazing the President would inform the ally of the country he was striking, but not mention it to a single member of Congress. Meanwhile, he did so without consequence. It seems one can now simply dismiss the War Powers Act as an antique from the past.

It is time for the US to develop a system or mechanism to protect the Constitution, US lives, and those that would be deployed to fight our wars. A President should have the leverage to profoundly defend US interests in an attack, but never be allowed to be involved in global conflicts on an ongoing basis, like in Syria, without declaring war.

It is clear, the United States should only be in offensive mode, when both houses of Congress has voted for such. That is, in fact, how wars are won. When members of Congress are forced to vote in favor of war, they get to deal with the consequences and their constituents. They should have to explain to voters how the lost of their sons and daughters was justified. As things stand today, members of Congress get to hide behind a President who either acted unilaterally or as part of an international coalition. Either way, US lives are continuously put on the line without clear objectives or a resolve to win. The only way you get the type of “buy in” from the American people that leads to victory, is to have members of Congress vote for every war we are in. Approaching wars in this manner could prevent future soldiers from being harmed or killed. It is difficult to think of a better way to celebrate future Memorial Days.

This article is a modified version of an article that originally appeared in US Daily Review and written by this author.