Memorial Day was originally instituted to commemorate the sacrifices of those who lost their lives in the American Civil War.
Since then it has become a day to remember and celebrate the sacrifices of American military service members in all military conflicts.
At its best, Memorial Day is a day to venerate sacrifice and courage for a higher righteous cause; at its worst it can become a day to celebrate American military strength, or to state it more bluntly: a day to celebrate militarism.
Paul Kennedy, in his book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, argued that there was a cycle to the rise and fall of great powers. Initially they became great because of their economic strength which enabled them to amass great military strength. They then began to depend heavily on their military strength, which became economically unsustainable and they began to decline.
It is, of course, mostly guesswork to try to decide at what point the United States may be in this cycle. For example, I can remember how the military was mostly despised in the United States in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in the late stages of the Vietnam War. That trend turned with the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s and now has swung to the other extreme. Whether this trend is merely situational or is systemic will be decided by future historians in retrospect, but as a Christian I am concerned when my nation appears to put more trust in its military than it does in God.
It is the temptation of the heart of man to trust in his own strength rather than God who gave it to him, and nations are the heart of man writ large.
As a Christian, I’m no pacifist but neither am I a militarist. I recognize the necessity of military force in a fallen world, but I hesitate to glorify it because I know it is not the end of the kingdom of God on earth. It is necessary but not desired. As the kingdom of God expands on the earth, military conflict will decrease and nations will ultimately beat the swords into plowshares. (Isaiah 2:1-4).
So, on this Memorial Day, I celebrate the sacrifice and courage of those who have fought against tyranny and for nations and peoples to be free, but I look forward to the day when the kingdom of God has so progressed on the earth to the point that large militaries will be a thing of the past. GS