The Purpose of Memorial Day: Honoring Virtue

Memorial Day is a solemn and sad occasion honoring the American soldiers who gave their lives in war. But it is also a hallowed day–because the values those men fought to defend form the essence of our country: freedom and the rights of the individual.

The United States has never fought a war of conquest. The Revolutionary War was waged to gain freedom from the tyranny of King George. The Civil War was fought to end slavery in this country. The Americans defended liberty in World War Two against the murderous collectivism of the Nazis. Even the Spanish-American War was fought against the brutal colonialism of the Spanish Empire, with the eventual result of Spain’s former possessions gaining greater freedom.

The greatest soldiers of American history knew that freedom was sacred; no price paid on its behalf was a sacrifice. George Washington, as commander of the Continental Army, led the way. Despite his years of struggle, and the hardships endured, Washington refused pay for his service. He used his own fortune to help finance the war effort, and, when the Revolution was won, took no money from Congress to help with the much-needed rebuilding of his Mount Vernon estate. General Washington recognized that freedom from tyranny was its own reward. His stirring words to Joseph Reed make clear his (and his compatriots) reasons for waging the Revolutionary War: “The spirit of freedom beat too high in us to submit to slavery.”

Douglas MacArthur–another great leader–as military commander of occupied Japan, made it his highest priority to establish the post-war Japanese government and economy on the principle of political/economic freedom. The relative liberty and prosperity of Japan’s newly semi-capitalist system owes much to MacArthur’s wisdom and efforts. Observing the fruits of his labor, he stated before Congress that America’s former enemies had “from the ashes left in war’s wake, erected in Japan an edifice dedicated to the primacy of individual liberty