Saturday, December 27, 2014

Let us not forget whom Memorial Day is really about

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Let us not forget whom Memorial Day is really about

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Have American soldiers been fighting overseas for too long?
Yes, Afghanistan just became nation’s longest war
No, all-volunteer military can cope
Yes, better ways to fight terrorism than with hot wars
No, have to take the fight to nations that train, shelter terrorists

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

— Lt. Col. John A. McCrae

Those words written to reflect the battlefield realities of World War I remain meaningful nearly a hundred years later. American soldiers are still dying on foreign soil. Like the doughboys back then, they commit their lives to a fight that isn’t so easy for some to understand. They do their duty.

The Afghanistan war, in particular, can be difficult to figure out. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, this nation was unified in its belief that taking out the culprits was necessary to ensure the country’s future safety. At the time, few envisioned that mission would take 10 years, leave nearly 2,000 U.S. soldiers dead, and cost this country more than $500 billion — and counting.

Finally, a little more than a year ago, the man responsible for 9/11, Osama bin Laden, was found living in a residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Navy SEALs in a daring raid killed al-Qaeda’s leader. But that didn’t end the war, which had long ago morphed into something much bigger than getting bin Laden. The United States has tried to make Afghanistan a stable nation that never again will serve as a base for terrorists who want to hurt our country.

That task has proved to be very difficult. It may be impossible. Certainly, Afghanistan is much closer to the ideal than when it was run by the Taliban, which was in league with al-Qaeda. But true stability requires a dependable government in Kabul, and the administration of President Hamid Karzai is hardly that. The situation is further complicated by neighboring Pakistan, which not only — unwittingly, it says — housed the fugitive bin Laden, but now has convicted a doctor who helped find bin Laden of treason.

A soldier in the field can’t be too concerned with the politics and policies that have put him in harm’s way. He has to leave that for higher-ups to sort out, and pray that they will make decisions that are best for this country, and for its men and women who risk their lives to defend our nation’s ability to determine its course in this way.

It’s Memorial Day. Remember to take some time to reflect on those in uniform who serve, and served, our nation.

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The Inquirer Editorial Board's Say What? opinion blog showcases the work of the editors and writers who produce the newspaper's daily and Sunday opinion pages.

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