There is a sad truth to be pondered this Memorial Day. It is that if we've learned anything as a nation, it is how to go to war. We always believe the war is just, at least when it starts, and we always say we're doing it to preserve freedom, or prevent the spread of something or other. Usually we aren't all that horrified by it. In fact in some cases we barely notice it. A lot of the time, if the conflict is small enough, we completely forget about it. Let's face it, how many of us have heard of the Modoc War of 1872-1873? It was a campaign waged against the Modoc Indians in northern California and southern Oregon. While there is no accounting of Native American casualties, Wikipedia lists 56 U. S. service people as killed in action and another 88 wounded. Then there is the American Expeditionary Force in Siberia from 1918 to 1920. The U.S. military suffered 160 dead from combat and 168 dead from what Wikipedia refers to as, other.
Other would be primarily disease, but also includes things like freezing to death and starvation. Other was a real killer right up through the first part of the twentieth century. In the War of 1812 America lost 2,260 troops in action against the British and 12,740 to other. In the Civil War, our most costly experiment in combat, both sides combined lost right at 215,000 troops in battle, other killed over 400,000. As late at WWI American forces lost nearly 10,000 more people to other than it did to bullets. bayonets, and bombs.
The statistics are pretty appalling for a country that says it is dedicated to peace. We are just a month short of being 237 years old and Wikipedia lists 74 different wars, conflicts, or military actions during which Americans were killed, wounded, or went missing. That would be one violent engagement every 3.2 years during our history. It would seem that despite our stated love of peace we get bored with it pretty damn quickly.
Sometimes war is unavoidable and a terrible necessity. However, 74 times in 237 years seems a bit excessive. I mean we occupied Nicaragua three different times early in the last century for God's sake. There were a variety of excuses, but the main one had something to do with us building a canal. By the time the third trip was over we'd lost 90 soldiers, marines, and sailors to combat and another 69 to our old nemesis other. One of the Nicaraguans who disputed our time there was a revolutionary named Augusto C. Sandino. Later, Nicaraguan leftists would call themselves Sandinistas in his honor. We finally departed the premises in 1933. The reason? The Great Depression had made it too expensive to keep troops there.
The brute reality is that since our inception, 2,717,991 American troops have been killed or wounded during wars. If you throw in the 38,159 who are listed as missing the grand total comes to 2,756,150 and counting.
So today, here in the states, we honor our war dead. Little American flags will dot cemeteries from coast to coast. The mournful call of Taps will echo, heads will be bowed, and salutes offered. We will stand in silence as we contemplate those who died in the service of their country, no matter whether their country was right, or off it's collective nut once again. We'll pray that someday no more Americans will have to fight and die, but deep down we'll know that we either haven't the brains, or worse, the desire, to make it happen. After it is all said and done we'll go about our lives and unless we've been directly impacted by war we'll forget about the grisly business until the next holiday that commemorates our military.
That would be in November when we celebrate Veteran's Day. It is meant to honor all those who served in the American armed forces. It used to be called Armistice Day, but obviously we aren't too big on armistices so we changed it.
Sleep well tonight, America. Legions of dead have served you well--even when they shouldn't have had to. Tragically we know more will follow.
mors vincit omnia