There was a time when warfare was a spectator sport. No, not in the Roman Coliseum, though that certainly was a one-on-one kind of warfare. I’m talking about when citizens took their picnic lunches and went to watch a battle. "Coming Soon To a Field Near You!" It happened right here in our own country, if you recall your history. It was during that most civil of Civil Wars. Civil because the people who fought it could, when the shooting stopped, shout to one another across the line, even trade between enemies at a very low level, perhaps catch up on family events as brothers fought brothers, fathers fought sons. And later, of course, when it was all over, we came together again as a people.
There was an historic tree on the campus where I spent many years, its location later marked by a bronze plaque. The plaque told of a Confederate sharpshooter who, using the tree as a perch, fired on nearby Fort Stevens. One shot found its mark in a military surgeon standing next to President Lincoln, who was watching his soldiers at their work. The tree stood for many years, a witness to war and history. But those days are long gone. Today when civilians are present, they are more likely to be intended targets.
War has now become a world-wide affair, involving solders and sailors and airmen . . . and the rest of us. Targets are not just people in different uniforms, or places where something important to a war is manufactured or prepared or distributed. Those kinds of targets are so yesteryear. And it doesn’t matter who is the enemy and who is the friend. Nor does it matter where the war is being fought. In truth, "the war," all wars, are being fought on land, sea and in the air, and in a neighborhood near you. Unless you are unlucky enough to be in the neighborhood that is today’s target of choice.
So as we think about why we have a memorial day, and recognize those men and women in uniform who have secured for us what we hold most dear, we really ought to expand its scope. The next battle could be in your street, or on my road, in an office block or a residential complex. We need to recognize that war is everywhere around us, that we are all in the middle of it, not spectators any longer. And if you are called upon to fight, to defend, to aid and comfort your fellow warfighters, you must be prepared to make that sacrifice, that "last full measure of devotion," to protect what is most at risk, and most valued: our freedom and our right to live.
We are all soldiers now.