It’s Memorial Day here in the United States, which marks the unofficial start of summer. More importantly, Memorial Day is a federal holiday set aside to remember veterans who have fallen in combat. The United States observes two other days dedicated to veterans: Armed Services Day, which honors those men and women currently serving in the armed services; and Veterans’ Day, which honors all American servicemen and women, living, dead, retired, active, etc.
We often hear encomiums this time of year about the numbers of men and women who have died to preserve our freedoms. These tributes are, of course, true (and, one hopes, heartfelt), and are worth reiterating.
I end every year of my American history courses urging my students to remember how precious their patrimony is, and that liberty is a fragile thing that must be preserved. I, too, mention the “men and women who gave their lives so that we might be free.” I then follow that up with noting that, while they hear that sentiment expressed often, they now know (having completed a year of American history) how true it is.
Nevertheless, it’s easy to forget the magnitude of that sacrifice. In an age where wars are so distant and remote they barely register for us anymore (remember: we’re still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan), it’s easy to take our soldiers for granted. It’s easier, still, to forget the sheer number of combat deaths—750,000 in the American Civil War alone.
To that end, I’ve elected to spare you any further pontificating, and present instead this Wikipedia entry on “United States military casualties of war,” which breaks down the numbers succinctly. Yet even dry statistics and bar charts speak volumes.
God Bless America!