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William Lambers is the author of “The Road to Peace and Ending World Hunger.”
When former Army Chief George Marshall was asked to make a Memorial Day speech at the Arlington National Cemetery in 1950, he wanted to talk about the sacrifices made by our brave soldiers. Gen.Marshall recalled meeting with a regiment after a fierce WWII battle, where there were many losses.
Marshall could feel the emotion of the soldiers as they were thinking about their comrades who had just given their lives. Marshall said “and it was evident that each man was thinking of the sacrifice he very probably would too soon be called upon to make.”
How do we honor these many soldiers which we remember on Memorial Day? For Marshall the answer was simple. He said, “our greatest responsibility to them is to protect their loved ones and their friends from the agonies and miseries of war.”
Marshall believed that building peace was how we must honor the sacrifice of soldiers. That pursuit of peace must be as relentless and dedicated as the soldiers on the battlefield.
Marshall said in his speech, “So long as there remains a conference table around which the nations can gather, the United States should be the first to attend and the last to retire. Only thus can we earn the right to stand here in the presence of the graves of these many men who were cut off in their youth from the life we enjoy and say in good conscience, ‘We are doing our best to justify your sacrifice.’”
A world at peace is far more than the absence of conflict, Marshall believed people must live in freedom and their basic human rights protected. Marshall reasoned “Tyranny inevitably must fall back before the tremendous moral strength of the gospel of freedom and self respect for the individual.”
But such peace can never be achieved if people were suffering in hunger. Marshall said “But we must have in mind that these democratic principles do not flourish on empty stomachs.” Marshall was an advocate for feeding the hungry which he believed was vital to winning the peace, and proved to be the case in the recovery of Europe after the war.
Now over 70 years later, Marshall’s words still resonate with us on Memorial Day. We must keep up the brave soldiers’ quest for a world of peace so no one will have to suffer as they and their families did.
It is a heavy and crucial responsibility each one of us carries. And it is our right as citizens to question our leaders if they are in keeping with that mission of building peace. Recent years have seen the United States abandon treaties and enable conflicts in other lands through arms sales.
These are not attributes of peacemakers and we should speak out against such actions that are not in the spirit of our ultimate goal.
On this Memorial Day think of what contributions you can make to honor the sacrifice of relatives and others in the quest for freedom and peace. That can be your mission to carry forward on Memorial Day and beyond.