The American Flag is not a political symbol, in an ideological sense. It belongs neither to the left nor the right. It’s not a Republican or Democratic banner.
It’s us. The U.S.
I am blessed to have not experienced the violence of war in my own life. I came of age, I turned 18, in 1976 in an “in between” time, after Vietnam had ended and before future interventions took American troops to various foreign places.
Being for or against those interventions is neither patriotic nor not. You can oppose a war and love your country. But it’s also true that one of the great sins of the 20th Century was the shabby way Vietnam veterans were treated when they came home.
Today’s vets face special challenges. The percent of the population that is in the military is fairly low. Today’s warriors come disproportionately from rural and small states—like Iowa. It’s too easy, in a huge rich country of well over 300 million souls to forget that we are actively engaged in warfare today.
And that today’s wars, with their exposure of a high percent of the deployed troops to guerilla, frontless combat, and their resulting tendency to drag on for years, are particularly hard on those who choose to serve.
Not that our wars have usually been easy. The Revolution, with its volunteer, untrained soldiers facing the world’s most professional armed forces of the time, wasn’t a cake walk. Our own Civil War still looms disproportionately in our psyche and history—we forget that on a per-capita basis, it was by far our most consuming conflict, beating even World War II.
And in the 20th and 21st centuries, our fighters have been asked to travel the globe, fighting for us as far away from home as it’s possible to get without blasting off for the moon.
We owe an unpayable debt to those who, in Lincoln’s words, gave the “last full measure of devotion.” So here, on this Memorial Day, is a waving flag and a tip of the hat to all those who served and serve, all those who died and all those who suffered so that we, us, the U.S., would exist and continue to be free.