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What do Memorial Day and the 2018 election season have to do with each other?

Very little from a practical perspective.

Memorial Day since just after the Civil War has been an effort to recognize and remember those who have died while in military service. Its purpose often gets confused with Veterans Day, observed on Nov. 11 each year for the purpose of expressing the nation's thanks to all who have given of themselves in military service, particularly those still living.

It is interesting, to me at least, that the origins of this day arose out of a desire to honor the soldiers who gave their lives during the War Between the States, as some called the great national schism over slavery of the mid 1800s. That is, to honor the war dead on both sides of battle.

If such a notion came up today, I suspect some would be appalled that those who fought for the South would be honored in the same way as those who did battle for the North. That should reveal something about Memorial Day: It's about honoring the memory of the individual American whose life was given in service to the greater purpose. It's not a judgment about whether the cause was just. The causes of war are born in legislative chambers and executive offices. But a man or woman who dies for his or her country, even in an unjustified war or excursion, is due respect for the sacrifice made on behalf of a hopefully grateful nation.

It is possible to support the troops without supporting the cause.

Whether it's fighting Hitler or battling the Viet Cong or hunting down terrorists in the Middle East, these military service members have died in the name of the United States of America. Whether the cause is righteous or not, their response to the call is the same honorable one. Perhaps it's hard to directly link every battle to the lofty cause of liberty and democracy. Battles are fought by people who spend a lot of time standing by to stand by, then trying to stay alive another day in the midst of violence while working toward a military objective. But in the larger context, these men and women of the military have stood in the gap and died in military service to the nation because they believe strongly in the country they are representing or defending.

It doesn't make them more American than anyone else. It doesn't give them an extra vote on Election Day. It does mean their opinions about the country's direction are better than those of someone who didn't serve. But it sure should earn them an immediate level of our respect reserved for the utmost sacrifice. And a day -- at least a day -- in which their memories and their service are honored.

So, what does all that have to do with our 2018 election cycle?

First, it ought to increase expectations of ourselves when it comes to our involvement in influencing the direction of our nation. If they can die for our freedoms, shouldn't we have the decency to make full use them? And I don't just speak of voting. That's a minimum level of civic involvement. I suggest, beyond that, people work to be informed and become active in their local communities; that they pay enough attention to know what their elected officials have supported and opposed; and that they put in the effort to learn about issues and candidates so that sleazy advertising by shadowy organizations will not become the most influential voices in local, state and national elections.

Take a look at the Arkansas Supreme Court race involving Justice Courtney Goodson, primary odd-man-out Kenneth Hixson and David Sterling, perhaps the most blatant hard right-wing Republican to ever run in a supposedly nonpartisan contest for an eight-year term on the state's highest court. Arkansas needs principled, reasonable individuals dedicated to fair interpretation of the law, not ideology, on the court. But with out-of-state organizations capable of spending millions of dollars from unnamed donors, what used to be about picking men and women with strong and distinguished legal service has become a cesspool of cynical political advertising.

There are a lot of men and women who died fighting for this country. In some instances, one can rightly say these warriors actually saved the nation. Those in service today make our nation strong against those whose religious, governmental and cultural ideologies drive them to want to destroy all the United States stands for.

If the United States ever falls, it won't be due to a lack of brave soldiers standing ready to fight oppressors or invaders. If that ever happens, it will be the result of Americans destroying themselves from the inside out through easily manipulated ignorance or apathy.

The best way to honor the sacrifices of those who died in service to this country is to embrace our vital role as citizens and avoid becoming lazy Americans.

Commentary on 05/28/2018

Print Headline: Honoring their sacrifice

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