For the overwhelming majority of Americans, Memorial Day’s chief significance is that it is the beginning of summer and an occasion for the season’s first big barbecue. That’s true in times of peace, but it’s been true, oddly, even during this long decade of war.
We’ve fought more and more war with a smaller and smaller percentage of the population taking part. There’s no draft, and military service is increasingly rare in elite circles.
In a 2010 speech at Duke, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke about the effect of this divide.
“Whatever their fond sentiments for men and women in uniform, for most Americans the wars remain an abstraction. A distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally.”
And so while the “fallen” exist as people we think about in the abstract, most of us don’t have them in our own families.
On October 10, 2001, Master Sergeant Evander Andrews, a member of the 366th Civil Engineering Squadron, died in a heavy equipment accident while constructing an airstrip in Qatar for use in the American bombing campaign in Afghanistan. He was the first American casualty of Operation Enduring Freedom, the first door knock at the home, the first flag-draped coffin of this long era of war.