Pandemic or no, resilient Americans will celebrate Memorial Day together. Be it through Zoom or spaced six feet apart from ten or less loved ones at backyard cookouts, folks will find a way. In these peculiar gatherings, is it still considered cynical to wonder if people will spare much actual thought for American soldiers still dying abroad—or question the utility of America’s forever wars? Etiquette aside, we think it’s obscene not to.
Just as the coronavirus has exposed systemic rot, this moment also reveals how obsolete common conceptions of U.S. warfare truly are—raising core questions about the holiday devoted to its sacrifices. The truth is that today’s “way of war” is so abstract, distant, and short on (at least American) casualties as to be nearly invisible to the public. With little to show for it, Washington still directs bloody global campaigns, killing thousands of locals. America has no space on its calendar to memorialize these victims: even the children among them.
Eighteen years ago, as a cadet and young marine officer, we celebrated the first post-9/11 Memorial Day—both brimming with enthusiasm for the wars we knew lay ahead. In the intervening decades, for individual yet strikingly similar reasons, we ultimately chose paths of dissent. Since then, we’ve penned critical editorials around Memorial Days. These challenged the wars’ prospects, questioned the efficacy of the volunteer military, and encouraged citizens to honor the fallen by creating fewer of them.