The history behind Memorial Day
In spring 2019, LaGrange College was privileged to host retired Gen. John Jumper, one of America’s top military leaders. From Vietnam to the Persian Gulf War to Kosovo, he was a key player in the resurgence of America’s armed forces. I was fortunate enough to get him for an interview for a very fitting occasion: Memorial Day.
On Memorial Day, we hear lectures on what we’re not supposed to do (just goof off). But what should we do? “I believe that Memorial Day is a day all Americans should pause and reflect on our freedom and the price paid to gain it and sustain it,” Gen. Jumper began. “Consider all who have died, not just Americans, and not just soldiers, but all who have died to stand against those who intended to dominate. The cost of war has been dear. In World War II alone some 65 million people died; 400,000 of those were Americans but more than one half of the 65 million worldwide were civilians. These numbers are staggering and a cogent reminder of what happens when peaceful people allow evil to go too far.”
When asked about America’s greatest threats, Gen. Jumper replied, “Nuclear weapons in the hands of political leaders who do not have the checks and balances our nation has to employ such weapons are our biggest threat. Nuclear technology is now more than 70 years old and readily available. The only constraint is the manufacture of nuclear material necessary to make a bomb. Nuclear countries (or potential nuclear countries) like North Korea and Iran are led by powerful dictators who suppress freedom and will do anything to retain power, including extreme risks to the survival of their own population. In a world where fake news can influence the outcome of elections, it’s not hard to imagine how unstable leaders, or even third parties, could contrive false threats that would demand immediate reaction. Our vulnerability to misinformation makes the world more dangerous.”
I asked Gen. Jumper about the recent concerns noted by Undersecretary of Defense Anthony Kurta about recruiting people for the military and Defense Department. He said, “This is a growing problem and Kurta is right. There are many issues contributing to an eroding sense of service among our younger people, but three stand out in my mind. One, inability to identify with those who serve; two, fewer qualified to serve (criminal records, obesity, drug use); three, publicity around the negative aspects of service. As Americans we are driven further away from our nation’s history, losing our sense of common cause, an understanding of what was required to found and build our nation and, most importantly, our responsibilities as citizens to sustain our way of life. I tell young audiences that whether we realize it or not, we are all in search of being part of something bigger than ourselves. There is nothing bigger than the nation we should serve and sustain for our children and generations to come. If you want to swear an oath to a gang, join one of the gangs sworn to protect our nation: The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard.”
I told him about my recent class of students, who were learning about the Vietnam War for the first time, and barely covered World War II. He had some strong notions about history courses today. “I think it’s a national tragedy that current generations have no appreciation of the fortune of their circumstances living in this country. Even worse, the caliber of history that is taught is in many ways a disgrace: Slavery defined as ‘our first experience with imported labor,’ and our hesitation in addressing what we didn’t get right in the formation of our government: Native Americans, slavery vs. racism, early persecution of religious freedoms, etc. The liberal notion that we should be ashamed of the less-than-honorable parts of our history, and either create another narrative or don’t teach it at all, is just wrong.”
We appreciate the service of our military on Memorial Day, and hope all readers will heed his advice, huddle with family, and think of what you can do to keep this special day special.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science atin LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at . His Twitter account is JohnTures2.