Today marks a solemn observance, Memorial Day, when our thoughts turn to the men and women who have sacrificed their lives in service to our country. The first national observance, then known as Decoration Day, was held in May 1868. More than 100 years later, Congress declared Memorial Day a federal holiday to be observed the last Monday in May.
Over its tumultuous history, the United States has been involved in numerous wars, with the Civil War, World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War being the ones that come most immediately to mind for most of us. During the Civil War, 620,000 lives were lost. Military losses in World War II totaled more than 405,000; more than 116,000 during World War I, and more than 58,000 over the course of the conflict in Vietnam. Nearly 1.2 million lives lost in those wars alone. But for what purpose?
Wars are terrible. We hate them, as we should. But as history has proven time and again, sometimes wars are unavoidable. Why? I believe we find the answer – at least for the U.S.A. – in the final and least-known stanza of the poem by Francis Scott Key that became our National Anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner.
Written by attorney Key during the War of 1812, that concluding verse affirmed what most Americans believed at that time:
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserved us as a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – ‘In God Is Our Trust.’
As I’ve been reading through a hefty volume called The Founders’ Bible, the complete Bible plus hundreds of articles, commentaries and notes about what the America’s founding fathers truly thought about the Bible and Christianity, I’ve been amazed. George Washington, the first President of the United States, said:
“It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly implore His protection and favor.”
Washington’s successor, John Adams, echoed those sentiments:
“The safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and the blessings of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgement of this truth is…an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him.”
The Founders’ Bible presents hundreds of quotations from dozens more of the founding fathers, including those with names like Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, John Hancock, and Noah Webster. Contrary to common contemporary belief, the framers of our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution saw no cause for excluding matters of faith and piety from conduct and policies in the public square.
So, as we honor and memorialize the self-sacrifices of the countless thousands of men and women who have given their lives on battlefields at home and abroad, we can be assured they did not do so without purpose – or in vain.
Proverbs 14:34 declares, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.” We’re living in an age when virtues of righteousness are sneered at and disparaged. As a consequence, we seem to be reaping the result – sin that condemns any people.
As the ancient Israelites were poised to finally enter the Promised Land, which would necessitate doing battle with hostile, pagan nations, Moses gave them this charge:
“See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely, this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ And what other nation is so great as to have their gods near to them the way the Lord our God is near to us whenever we pray to Him?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-7).
Despite our nation’s spiritual heritage, which was necessarily bathed in bloodshed of noble soldiers, we seem to have forgotten admonitions from our founding fathers and the Scriptures themselves. As we soberly and thankfully remember those who lost their lives in defense of the United States and its underlying principles, may we pray to see a return to the beliefs and practices that make for a nation that is exalted by righteousness.
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.