Remembering those who have fallen

Three weeks from now we will mark — with little fanfare — the 200th anniversary of the official start of the War of 1812. It was June 18, 1812, that President James Madison signed a congressionally approved declaration of war against Great Britain.

That was the first war the young country would fight as a self-governing nation, as opposed to the group of rag-tag rebels who had revolted against Britain a generation earlier. But it would be far from the last. Some 2,200 Americans would die in that war, which stretched from the Great Lakes to the Southeast and, eventually, New Orleans. Altogether, it is estimated that 15,000 American, British and Indian combatants died in 2 1/2 years of fighting that ended with the Treaty of Ghent, but with no clear victory for either side.

Two centuries later, in April 2012, 35 U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan, even though our involvement in the war there is winding down and it’s not at all clear what our military goals are, or have been, much less whether victory was achieved.

In between these two wars, countless young American men (and now women) have gone off to fight in places like Veracruz and Gettysburg, Cuba and Belleau Wood, Normandy and Iwo Jima, Chosen, Mekong, Falluja and Kandahar.

Sometimes, our military objectives have been clear and an undisputed victory was achieved. Other times, the objectives were more muddled and the outcome less decisive.

But in all of these battles and more, our military personnel fought bravely — fighting for their country, their rights, the rights of others or, sometimes, battling simply to keep themselves and their buddies alive.

While this country has instituted a draft during several wars to ensure enough soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen were in uniform, most of our military personnel over the centuries have been volunteers.

And they have gone off to combat even though, during every war mentioned above and in other conflicts, there have been dissenters who didn’t believe we should go to war in the first place, or were lobbying for a withdrawal after combat began. The Daily Sentinel has been among those voices arguing for a more rapid removal of our troops from Afghanistan.

That’s part of what makes the sacrifices of our military personnel so important. In part, they risk their lives so that we can continue to live in a country where our political debate is robust and all people can express their opinions. And no single, egomaniacal autocrat can send our troops to fight without consulting anyone else, as has occurred in too many countries around the world and through the centuries.

So this weekend — amid barbecues and JUCO games, recreational activities and work — take time to remember all those who have served this country, and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.


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