Even if you attend a local tribute, it’s too easy to allow Memorial Day to drift into just another holiday. A recent movie provides a fresh window into the importance of honoring our lost noble warriors.
“Eye in the Sky” stars Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell, a UK-based military officer in command of a top-secret drone operation whose mission was to capture terrorists in Kenya. Through remote surveillance and on-the-ground intel, Colonel Powell discovers the targets are planning multiple suicide bombings. The mission escalates from "capture" to "kill."
But as American drone pilot Steve Watts, played by Aaron Paul, is about to fire a Hellfire missile, a nine-year old girl enters the kill zone. An international dispute is triggered over the value of one innocent life and the destruction of terrorists who will potentially kill hundreds. The dispute reaches the highest levels of the US and British government. See the movie and struggle with your choice.
But on this Memorial Day, there’s one scene that reminds us of the cost of war. In the film, a civilian politician confronts Lt. General Frank Benson, played by Alan Rickman, on hiscallous assessment of the value of one life. The general responds with a statement that rings too true: "Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war."
In the heat of battle, critical life-or-death decisions are made every day. Choices are seldom morally clear and often result in deadly consequences to enemies, innocent civilians, or one of your own band of brothers. On this Memorial Day, we remember those soldiers who’ve paid that ultimate price.
Our noble warriors have always carried the burden of defeating enemies while doing everything they can to minimize collateral damage. Tears have been shed when their efforts weren’t enough to save their brothers in arms or the innocent bystanders in the line of fire. For some we honor today, the moment’s time needed to save another cost them their own lives. In our Judeo-Christian culture, individual lives matter.
Whether it was Japanese Kamikazes in World War II or today’s Islamic terrorists, evil enemies seek to unleash the most collateral damage possible. ISIL and other terrorist groups often place their operations in civilian areas knowing our reluctance to attack when so many innocents could die.
America is committed to defeating Islamic extremism, but we can be proud of our soldiers and leaders who balance our military mission with our commitment to minimize the death of innocents. Any just war requires such balanced priorities, and those priorities cost lives.
Our priorities must and do show. As General Norman Schwarzkopf was meeting with Saudi officers before returning from the first Gulf War, one Saudi officer pulled him aside to say, “I thank God every day that America is the only super-power left, because you are the only one who would leave.” We seek no empire or Caliphate.
Abraham Lincoln, as a largely unknown Republican candidate, stirred audiences with a powerful turn of phrase that speaks volumes about American values. Campaigning in New York City, Lincoln declared, “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”
America is slow to war and unparalleled at conducting successful military campaigns. It’s been said that the best thing that can happen to a country is to declare war with the United States and lose. Like good Boy Scouts who leave the forest better for having been there, the United States likes to leave defeated countries better off when we leave.
Beyond the cost of war and investing in the future of those defeated, the biggest cost remains the soldiers who died defending freedom. Our cemeteries stand as a stirring reminder of the true price paid. Walking through the rows of crosses and stars of David at Normandy brings tears to any proud American or appreciative Frenchman’s eyes. May we never forget to keep Memorial Day focused on those Nobel Warriors we’ve lost.