Memorial Day has assumed a strange place within American civic culture. It has become the Federal holiday that signals the start of summer, while at the same time, because of the changes to how Americans respond and relate to the US military, has become a de facto second Veteran’s Day. And, of course, for those that have served, or those related to them, or those who have known them as more than passing acquaintances, and those who have some civic self awareness, the holiday retains its original purpose: to commemorate America’s war dead.
All of this together is a strange civic cultural mashup. Especially because American’s think of ourselves as a peace loving, only going to war as a last resort, society. The truth, however, is that we have so many war dead to remember because the US has been at war in 234 of its 243 years*.
- The Revolutionary War: 1775-1783
- The Barbary Wars: 1801-1805 and 1815 (the 1815 war is also known as the Algerian War)
- The War of 1812: 1812-1814
- The Mexican American War: 1846-1848
- The Great Rebellion, now doing business as the American Civil War: 1861-1865
- The Spanish American War: 1897-1898
- The Banana Wars: 1898-1934
- The Philippine Insurrection: 1899-1902
- The Moro Rebellion: 1899-Present (US Marines and/or Special Operations Forces are still assisting the Filipino military in the 120 year on again, off again dispute with the Moros)
- The Indian Wars: 1776-1918
- World War I: 1917-1918
- World War II: 1941-1945
- The Cold War: 1947-1991
- The Korean War: 1950-Present (The Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953 and produced a a warm peace on the peninsula)
- The Vietnam War: 1955-1973
- Operation Urgent Fury (US Invasion of Grenada): 25-29 October, 1983
- Operation Just Cause (US Invasion of Panama): December 1989-January 1990
- Operation Desert Storm: 1991-1992
- Operation Provide Comfort (Iraqi No Fly Zones): 1991-2003
- Operation United Shield (UN Operations Somalia II/UNOSOM II): January-March 1995
- Operation Determined Falcon (Kosovo War): 1998-1999
- Operation Enduring Freedom: 2001-2014
- Operation Enduring Freedom-Philipines: 2002-2015 (also known as Operation Freedom Eagle)
- Operation Iraqi Freedom: 2003-2011
- Operation Odyssey Dawn (Intervention in Libyan Civil War): 19-31 March 2011
- Operation Inherent Resolve: 2014-Present (ongoing successor operation to Operation Iraqi Freedom and includes US and coalition operations in Syria)
- Operation Freedom’s Sentinel: 2015-Present (ongoing successor operation to Operation Enduring Freedom)
This tally doesn’t even include all the small localized rebellions – last time I counted there were over 90 of these – from the founding of the US (Carlisle, PA Rebellion, Shays’ Rebellion, Whiskey Rebellion, Gilbert’s Rebellion, etc) through to the Bundy standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Nor does it include the Confederate insurgency that arose after the Union defeated the Confederacy on the battlefield. An insurgency against Reconstruction, which led to Jim Crow, and is still being waged today by their neo-Confederate political, social, religious, and economic descendants. An insurgency that has itself warped America’s civic culture, politics, society, economy, and religion. An insurgency that continues to produce casualties in the name of its retrograde ideology, theology, and doctrine.
I spent a lot of time on this Memorial Day thinking about this bizarre aspect of our civic culture, as well as remembering colleagues and/or friends who didn’t make it back. Every year the ghosts seem to be a little more demanding and linger a little bit longer than the previous one.
Rest well Mike, Nicole, Paula, Terry, Gregg, and Charles.
* Someone please check my math!