After doing considerable research by means of this thing you call the “internet,” (including that amazing on-line resource, Wikipedia), and through visits to the local library, I have learned quite a bit about some of the other wars that have occurred since that time.
Casualties of war
Interestingly, on this day of remembrance for all those who lost their lives during these many wars, it might be helpful to mention just how steep the price of war really is.
For example, the Revolutionary War, with which I am best acquainted, happened to cost this new nation approximately 25,000-50,000 lives. (These wide-ranging numbers are due to the less-than-scientific accounting methods of that day). That figure, by the way, represents the total number of soldiers who died during active duty. Of those, about 8,000 died in battle, and the remaining numbers were lost to disease and starvation. About 2,500 casualties occurred at Valley Forge alone, during the harsh winter encampment there.
In contrast, World War II accounted for 60 to 85 million deaths (for all nations involved). Of these, the United States military losses totaled 407,000. Many historians call this the “deadliest war in human history.”
More recently, the Vietnam War was responsible for 3.8 million violent war deaths, which included 195,000 to 430,000 South Vietnamese civilians, 50,000 to 65,000 North Vietnamese civilians, and 58,220 members of the U.S. military services.
These staggering numbers are truly something to consider whenever this country’s current leaders toy with the idea of entering another conflict, no matter how limited at first. (I have also learned that the Vietnamese war started on a very small scale, with the small numbers of U.S. personnel initially being employed as “advisors.”)
Holiday and parade history
Turning to a somewhat lighter, but related, topic, I also researched the history of your “Memorial Day” holiday. I discovered that this observance, originally called “Decoration Day” (because of the custom of decorating soldiers’ graves) originated sometime around 1865, following the Civil War.
And as to parades, it turns out that Ironton, a small town in southern Ohio, claims to have the oldest continuously running Memorial Day parade, dating back to 1868. However, a community closer geographically to my adopted hometown of Philadelphia – Doylestown, Pennsylvania – actually was the first, with a parade that began one year earlier, in 1867.
Ben as Memorial Day guest speaker
I suppose, given the custom of having local leaders, war veterans, school and religious representatives, etc., being involved in local Memorial Day observances, I could conceivably have been called upon in my own day to be an orator at Philadelphia-area events. I do not know if the gathered crowds would fully appreciate some of the things I might have had to say, however. While I am very thankful for the end result of our Revolutionary War—the independence from England that we won through our hard-fought efforts—I am also aware of the untold cost of that conflict.
And now, from my perspective as a time traveler who recognizes that each new war in some way has had its foundation laid by previous wars, I realize too that the cumulative death toll of all these wars, through the centuries, is utterly mind-boggling to consider. In hindsight, as a peace-loving man who favors negotiation and win-win diplomacy over violence and bloodshed, I would have to ask, is war really the most practical way to solve our problems?
Perhaps the most fitting tribute, and a lasting legacy, to all the men and women who gave their lives in the service of their country, is to find a better way.
Your humble servant,