When I was a kid, Memorial Day was May 31. Now it's the last full weekend in May. This is time for us to remember the men and women who have died while wearing the uniform of our country, fighting the battles that were deemed necessary for the defense of our country.
Patriots may disagree on the necessity of the battles we have fought this century, but none can argue that more than 4,000 more names have been added on the rolls of the honored dead because of the decisions of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
Just as I believe in steely eyed optimism, I believe in steely eyed patriotism as well. What makes the United States the most dangerous country in the 21st Century has to do with our national experience of the 20th Century. War has grown more vicious with technological change, and Americans haven't experienced it first hand the way much of the rest of the world has. Even with a war as horrible as the American Civil War, the carnage was largely confined to the men at arms. In modern war, civilian losses have grown worse at a terrible rate. The improvements in airplane technology between World War I and World War II and Hitler's vicious disregard for human life brought civilians onto the front lines. The Allies, first horrified by the idea, felt they had no choice but to emulate that which only months earlier they had considered a monstrous evil and bomb civilian targets.
Americans don't know war. Most of the rest of the world knows war isn't just something you send your brave boys off to fight, knowing that some will not come back. Some will argue that we saw modern war when Pearl Harbor was attacked and on September 11, 2001 when buildings fell in New York and Washington, D.C. Let me say respectfully that two bad days in sixty years isn't war. If you are unsure of this, ask the people of London. Ask the people of Dresden. Ask in Tokyo or the city that was known as Stalingrad, or Hanoi or Phnom Penh or Nanking. Some of the people who saw modern war are very old now. You can be sure they haven't forgotten.
We now face terrorism. But even that threat isn't like what other countries have faced. We really don't live side by side with the people who hate us. It isn't like the Brits and the Irish, the Spanish and the Basques, the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Turks and the Kurds.
American exceptionalism is a disease that will take a long time to cure. Some will consider it inappropriate to rail against it on the day when we are supposed to honor our own that fell in battle. But until we truly spare a thought and a prayer for those innocents who fell because of our bombs and bullets, we will continue to be the greatest force that stands against peace in this world.