Last week before the movers arrived to pack and then to remove our household goods in the first phase of shipping things to Hawaii, I did some reminiscing. My partner and I, in almost forty-two years of life together, have made twenty-one moves. This will be our ninth transoceanic move. Our ten years in Raleigh were by far the longest that we have lived anywhere.
Yet in two respects, this move was easier than many of our prior moves. First, we have digitized most of the material items (photos, mementoes, etc.) that are important to us. The digital format allows multiple copies (e.g., one with the shipment, another with us) and thus reduces the risk that we will bereft of the items that help us remember who we are and from whence we have come.
Second, I find that I now place less value on things. Perhaps this is a function of age, recognizing that when I perish (as, ultimately, everything does), I will have little or no control over what happens to my former possessions. I can specify in a will who inherits what, but I cannot dictate what the inheritor does with her/his new possessions. Perhaps my increased detachment from things is a function of having watched most of the prior generation die and family members disposing of once cherished and now superfluous items. Perhaps my increased detachment reflects a deeper spirituality: people and relationships, not things are of real importance.
Philosophers often dislike multiple reasons, arguing that multiple reasons can result in over determining the cause of an event. Nevertheless, I like multiple reasons. I find life messy and think that people act for multiple, often overlapping if poorly aligned reasons.
Today is Memorial Day. We too quickly forget those who fought and died in the nation's armed forces. Sometimes we want to forget, recognizing that the war ended badly or was unjust, e.g., the Vietnam War and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Other times, we forget because those who knew and loved the deceased have themselves died. This is true with respect to most WWI and WWII veterans, two wars that probably altered the course of history.
Most Americans value Memorial Day primarily because it provides a long, three-day weekend for vacations, social gatherings, and sporting events. The diminishing number of families from whom someone currently serves (or is still alive but once served) in the military seems likely to further sever any link between Memorial Day and honoring the sacrifice of those who died in service of their nation.
War is evil. Unfortunately, war is very occasionally an unavoidable evil to prevent the triumph of injustice. Stopping the spread of fascism and ending slavery exemplify the potential of war to stop a greater evil. But the horrendous toll of death, injury, and other sacrifices in WWII and the Civil War poignantly underscore war's horrific cost. Leaders who wish to commit the nation to fight too frequently minimize war's costs in lives and treasure.
So, on Memorial Day, let us remember those who fought and died. And let us renew our commitment to ensuring that nations never fight unless there is no viable alternative path to justice, and then to fight only when victory is possible. Unlike household possessions that can be digitized or replaced, each human is irreplaceable. Remembering is our best option for not repeating past mistakes caused by glorifying war or misperceiving war as the preferred, perhaps only, solution to problems that are actually intractable or not ours to solve.