THE WAY I SEE IT by Don Polson Red Bluff Daily News 5/30/2017
Silent sacrifice of the fallen
“Memorial Day is dedicated to those who’ve given the last full measure, their last breath, in causes that they may or may not have deeply understood. But give their all they did, if only on the orders from leaders they trusted, for the men fighting next to them or the women and children left back home.” (from my Memorial Day column, May 31, 2016)
“Why They Died: The Motivations of American Soldiers in 12 Great Wars,” by Tyler O’Neil, 5/29/2016, explored the reasons that have driven Americans in the warfare on America’s behalf. “In our 240-year history, the United States has fought twelve major wars, and over one million Americans have died in wartime. Here’s why the troops fought and died.”
If you take a few minutes to look it up by title, you’ll gain a renewed appreciation not only for the sacrifices in wars that occurred in our collective memory but also for the causes behind the conflicts that made America what it is today. The Revolutionary War, 1775 to 1783, with its 4,435 dead, ranks near the bottom in terms of numbers. Nonetheless, it must be put in perspective to America’s (meaning the colonies’) population of around 2.5 million. At less than 1/100th of our current 310+ million, it translates to almost a half a million dead.
Other wars from America’s formative period: The Indian Wars (1817-1898) saw the loss of about 1,000 Americans. Controversial to many, “there was abuse and foul play on both sides…The idea of ‘Manifest Destiny also motivated many, who believed that American settlers should occupy all the land between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans…Many American troops fought for their lands and families, while some fought for adventure and the spoils of war.”
The War of 1812 (1812-1815) saw 2,260 American deaths. The Spanish-American War (1898-1901) resulted in 2,446 deaths. The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) brought about 13,283 deaths; given America’s population of about 23 million, that makes it comparable to about 140,000 in current numbers. The First World War saw the loss of 116,516 Americans; at about 1/3rd of our current population, that would compare to about 350,000 today.
World War II, with 405,399 deaths (double that for comparison to current population), and the Civil War, with 650,000 to 850,000 dead (multiply that by 10 for comparison), are the worst loss of life suffered by our fair nation. You can see, however, that the sacrifices in our War of Independence from British rule, with approx. 500,000 dead, ranks among the heaviest of burdens faced by Americans in war.
Other modern wars fall in between: The Persian Gulf War (1990-1991), 383 deaths; the Korean War (1950-1953), with 36,574 deaths; the Vietnam War (1964-1973) had 58,220 deaths.
The Global War on Terror, 6,888 dead from 9/11/2001 to May, 2016—in Afghanistan, Iraq, and throughout the Middle East—has perhaps the most controversy given the vociferous opposition that, while the sincere expression of a minority, does give rise to many and varied reasons and motives for opponents. Unfortunately, that minority seems to take its cue to rail against America’s military actions based on whether their Democratic Party has the White House, i.e. Bush=bad, Obama=good, Trump=bad. It’s not really a stretch of that pattern to think that, had Hillary Clinton won, they would regard the military as a whole, and America’s War on Terror, to be a salutary, even commendable cause.
In closing this column, consider the words to the hymn, “Mansions of the Lord,” which served as the recessional in the 2004 funeral of President Ronald Reagan. If you’ve ever heard its somber melody, you can put these lyrics to song, if only in your head:
“Mansions of the Lord”
To fallen soldiers let us sing
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing
Our broken brothers let us bring
to the mansions of the Lord
No more bleeding no more fight
No prayers pleading through the night
Just divine embrace, eternal light
in the mansions of the Lord
Where no mothers cry and no children weep
We will stand and guard tho the angels sleep
All through the ages safely keep
the mansions of the Lord
Ronald Reagan once delivered a moving tribute to the fallen warriors of America’s wars: “We are a nation under God and I believe God intended for us to be free. We must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. The price for this freedom at times has been high but we have never been unwilling to pay that price. Those who say that we’re in a time when there are no heroes, they just don’t know where to look.” Reagan suggested that the first place to look would be Arlington National Cemetery, and the story behind each gravestone marked by a Cross or a Star of David.