Memorial Day is an opportunity to honor the memory of all of America’s fallen heroes and communicate to all veterans and those serving today that their fellow citizens value their sacrifices to preserve the liberties we enjoy. In California, we might remember that, today, one of every nine of our active-duty servicemen and women are from our state and that one of every nine of the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for us since the mass murder attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, joined our armed forces from California. On Memorial Day, we might especially remember those who gave their lives in the service of our nation since 9/11 as warriors and humanitarians.
Our fallen heroes were warriors who fought to protect us from ruthless enemies. They were warriors because they were courageous, loyal and willing to give everything, including their own lives, to protect our nation and their fellow servicemen and women. They were warriors because their sense of honor, duty and loyalty inspired them to fulfill sacred covenants with their comrades-in-arms and the citizens in whose name they fought.
Our warriors who fell in the wars against jihadist terrorists since Sept. 11, 2001 were also humanitarians because their generation fought, as did previous generations, against enemies that pose a great threat to all civilized peoples. They were humanitarians because they protected our own citizens and the civilians among whom they fought from modern day barbarians who rape women, abuse children and commit mass murder against those who reject a perverted interpretation of Islam. They were humanitarians because they demonstrated prowess as warriors while using firepower with discipline and protection to protect noncombatants. They were humanitarians because they not only pursued their enemies relentlessly, they also provided aid and assistance to those displaced or brutalized by those enemies.
Some have difficulty understanding our fallen servicemen and women as warriors and humanitarians because they confuse military service and the warrior ethos with militarism. But as Americans watch dishonorable and depraved Russian forces murder and brutalize innocents, they should recognize that the U.S. military’s warrior ethos is what makes our military effective and what makes war less inhumane. And as Americans watch courageous Ukrainian soldiers defend their nation against the Russian onslaught, they might also remember that military service and a willingness to sacrifice remains an unfortunate necessity if we are to remain free. As the English theologian, writer and philosopher G.K. Chesterton observed, “War is not the best way of settling differences, but it is the only way of preventing them being settled for you.”
For those still unconvinced, they might look to the hell of Afghanistan today to see what America’s warriors and humanitarians prevented for two decades until our leaders not only lost the will to sustain support for the Afghan forces who were bearing the brunt of the fight but acted to weaken Afghan forces and strengthen the Taliban, their jihadist terrorist allies, and their Pakistani sponsors. And they might read the words from a letter that the mayor of Tall Afar sent to the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, the unit I commanded, as we departed Iraq in 2006. Major Gen. Najim Abed Abdullah al Jibouri, who is now the governor of Ninewa Province, Iraq, wrote the following to the families of our fallen:
“To the families of those who have given their holy blood for our land, we all bow to you in reverence and to the souls of your loved ones. Their sacrifice was not in vain. They are not dead, but alive, and their souls hovering around us every second of every minute. They will never be forgotten for giving their precious lives. We see them in the smile of every child, and in every flower growing in this land. Let America, their families and the world be proud of their sacrifice for humanity and life.”
So on this Memorial Day, let us be proud of our fallen warriors and humanitarians.
Let us be grateful that our nation still has young men and women who are willing to sacrifice to protect their fellow citizens, our nation and humanity and life. Let us cherish the freedoms that our warriors and humanitarians fought to preserve. And let us honor their memory with our deeds as we find ways to serve our nation and one another.
McMaster served as commissioned officer in the U.S. Army for 34 years, rising to the rank of lieutenant general, and was U.S. national security adviser in 2017 and 2018. He is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a lecturer in management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Follow him on Twitter @LTGHRMcMaster. FDD is a nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.