So here we are again. It's Memorial Day, 2015. It is the moment we in the states honor the American war dead. Some of us actually do pay our respects at cemeteries and war memorials across the land to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. However, for scads and scads of citizens all this day means is they get off work, have another excuse to down a bunch of beer, and otherwise entertain themselves.
After all, unless you're a war veteran, or had a family member, or friend come home in a flag draped coffin, the concept of wartime devastation is an abstract one at best. The reason is quite simple. Not one person in the continental 48 states has seen hostile military units storming through their streets, or enemy bombers dropping deadly payloads on homes and factories. Unless you are a Native American, it has been a century and a half since full fledged combat has ravaged village and countryside here.
Wikipedia lists 75 wars, conflicts, military expeditions and actions American troops have participated in.That is one every three years or so since that disparate group of intellectuals, farmers, and slave holders signed off on the Declaration of Independence 239 years ago.
Twenty-two of those "wars" were waged against the indigenous population of America and one was against ourselves, proving that in a pinch we'll take to killing each other rather than just sit around doing nothing.
Wikipedia also says 664,440 Americans have died as a direct result of combat, while 1,498.237 have been wounded. In addition there are 40,917 listed as missing and presumed dead. If that number seems low, it is because we really didn't start keeping MIA stats until World War I. Another 673,929 died during wars from, "other" causes--the vast majority of them were victims of disease. There is no telling how many Native Americans were killed, wounded, or died of hunger and disease.
Of course our numbers pale in comparison to other places. Wikipedia says, the United Kingdom and its colonies lost 734,697 soldiers, sailors and airmen directly from combat in World War I alone. The same conflict cost the French over a million lives, the Russians nearly two million, and the Germans over two million.
The World War II casualty figures weren't as high for the French and British. On the other hand, the Russians and their de facto colonies suffered six times the number of deaths and the European civilian population, especially in the east and southeast, was decimated. Thanks to the Japanese, China lost 15 to 20 million people both in the military and out of it.
Obviously, we humans do many things well, but none of them compare to our ability and willingness to slaughter ourselves.
Yes, we do need a Memorial Day in the United States. We should plant the little American flags on far too many graves, and we ought to remember those who have had their lives end too quickly.
Tragically, what we don't do is take the time to figure out how we can put a stop to all the carnage.
Even worse, it doesn't look like we'll ever even try.
sic vita est