As we kick off the Memorial Day weekend, we hope that you will not only enjoy the extra day off, but also take a moment to reflect on its meaning. Designated as a federal holiday for honoring those military personnel who died while serving, it is a time to reflect on their sacrifices. But truly honoring those sacrifices cannot just stop with an acknowledgment of their deaths, but should also involve some introspection.
During my deployments as an Army officer to Iraq and Afghanistan, I frequently found myself working with tribal elders, politicians, and foreign military leaders. In both countries we were working to promote the ideal of democracy to people who had suffered greatly, and had every excuse to seek safety among their ‘tribe’, whether those tribes were defined by religion, ethnicity, or familial ties. In all of those cases, I could refer back to the American experiment as an example. As a beacon of democracy and the rule of law.
The power of that beacon has dimmed. This January we saw the chamber of American democracy barricaded by armed guards. We saw a looter carrying out the lectern of the speaker of one of the greatest democratic, deliberative bodies the world has ever known. And as I saw these pictures it occurred to me how difficult it will be for young members of the military to have those conversations about the power of our democracy, like I had, in the years to come.
With these images now out in the world it will be impossible for young soldiers, working alone, to reassert the image of America that we all love and aspire to. For while our military fights for America, it is up to each of us, as citizens, to define what they are fighting for. So along with a moment of silence to think about the sacrifice of those who’ve fallen this Monday, please take a moment to think about what each of us can do in our own communities. What can we do to reach out to our neighbors and to overcome racism, demonization, and demagoguery? What can we do to fulfill our roles as citizens?
America has always struggled to live up to its ideals, but in that struggle we have been fortunate there are those willing to sacrifice everything in pursuit of a more perfect union. Truly honoring them requires dedication to the work of building, and maintaining, a country that justifies their sacrifice.
Dr. Jason Dempsey
Co-Founder, Veterans Advisory Council
Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security
Chief of Strategy, Millions of Conversations