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Knowledge and memorials
On Memorial Day and the voter's duty
The continued professionalization of the armed forces of the United States has the dual effects of making combat more survivable for most American servicemembers, and of reducing the number of those servicemembers required to conduct warfare. It is almost impossible to imagine repeating the scale of D-Day, involving 160,000 Allied troops and leading to at least 2,500 American fatalities. This is surely a good thing for America and its people.
■ It will always be fitting to honor Memorial Day through symbolic acts like lowering the flag, participating in memorial services, and placing flags in cemeteries. But we owe it to the honored war dead, and to those living servicemembers whose safe return is perpetually on the minds of their families, to match the professionalism of the armed forces with an increased professionalism of the voting public.
■ Just as increasing sophistication requires more outreach and education for any other profession or vocation to explain itself to the world, the same is true for the armed forces. We maintain -- wisely -- civilian control over the military, but as has been well-documented by thoughtful analysts, a democratic society that commits lives to warfare needs to be consistently interested in why it does so, how the decisions are made, and who it entrusts with great power.
■ Memorial Day must be more than just the first holiday of summer. But it should also be more than just a symbolic event that hallows past glories. It should be a day for civilians to consider their own military education. There are countless great memoirs of war, recommended reading lists, intelligent podcasts, and thoughtful commentators to follow -- including outspoken, intelligent flag officers who value outreach to the public.
■ We best honor the valiant sacrifices of the past by making sure that we, as citizen-voters and thus those ultimately responsible for the current and future exercise of force, aren't satisfied with having just a token appreciation for what is ultimately entrusted to our choices. As James Mattis said of himself as a commander, "I believe that many of my young guys lived because I didn't waste their lives because I didn't have the vision in my mind of how to destroy the enemy at the least cost to our guys and to the innocents on the battlefield." That same duty to read and learn so as to use force prudently rests on the shoulders of all of us.