Honoring the war dead inspires some of us to recall the dangerous jobs our soldiers faced against ferocious opponents — and how and why those attacks and battles played out.
But you don't have to go there right away. Memorial Day carries a simpler purpose: Pay respects to U.S. service members who died doing their assigned duties.
This year, the arc of events in Afghanistan earns a heightened place in the national consciousness. Evaluating the purposes of the combat or the carnage, the gains and losses, may be valuable. But the civic mission of the moment is to mourn.
On Sept. 11, another annual day of remembrance, we will mark 20 years since the al-Qaida attacks here that led to our longest war over there. President Joe Biden set that milestone as a deadline for our fighting men and women to depart, although it became clear last week that U.S. troops could be out by mid-July. The Pentagon estimates that "the withdrawal is now somewhere between 16% and 25% complete."
That's what makes this the best moment to remember the 2,300-plus U.S. military personnel who have perished in Afghanistan since 2001. Think about the fact that at least 56 Long Islanders were among the war dead of both Iraq and Afghanistan.
After this commemoration, we can all move on to consider what lies ahead.
Even many fierce political critics of Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, approved of his push to withdraw. For the most part we seemed united around this closure — a rare if not perfect consensus.
None of this erases the lingering bleakness that surrounds what's left in Afghanistan. For that country, whose security forces and civilians died in far greater numbers than ours, no victory celebrations are in order. The Taliban, still very much a brutal player, continues to threaten any internal peace. Jihadist ideology still has its local following.
The Biden administration hasn't succeeded in brokering any real power-sharing arrangement upon the American exit. The Pentagon is even planning for potential evacuations of Afghan nationals whose work for us threatens to make them targets of an advancing Taliban.
All this comes 10 years after the initially stated goal was met, with the killing of Osama bin Laden. That was in 2011, 10 years into U.S. involvement, cleaving the brutal time period in a hard symmetry.
On our shores, this year's holiday is also uniquely framed by national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. As this start-of-summer weekend approached, public wreath-laying ceremonies resumed at Arlington National Cemetery as restrictions were loosened.
Given so much to contemplate, the occasion is best marked with plain solemnity. Today we'd do our best to remember the sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters and cousins we lost in battle.
Nothing crystallizes the day like the haunting playing of "Taps," a staple of military funerals since the Civil War. Our fresh challenges as a nation, and our role in the wider world, will keep driving the news, from Afghanistan and beyond.
— The editorial board