What We Remember

This Memorial Day, I sat and listened to a reflection on what it means to be remember our war dead today, when our nation seems to be constantly at war and the fallen are professional soldiers. The speaker was quite thoughtful, but I found myself wanting to push the questions further.

Does the idea of constant war make conflict and fear seem normal and rational, even as the world becomes less violent? (See "The Fallen of World War II" for a fascinating demonstration that we are living in a "long peace".) What about our country’s enormous military and nuclear arms spending, which squeezes out programs for health, education, social welfare and even basic infrastructure?

Then I realized that my impatience with the speech was a gift of my work with Radius, which constantly challenges me to think about the world in new ways.

At my first program with Radius that addressed military policy in 2013, I introduced Hillary and Flynt Leverett, who made a controversial argument that the United States must engage with Iran. I must admit that my primary response to the debate was “This is all way above my pay grade.” I didn't know enough to have more than the most general opinions about military policies or foreign relations.

But as our country moved towards a nuclear arms agreement with Iran, I learned the complexities of the situation at Radius programs with John Tirman, Jim Walsh, Scott Kemp, Ali Banuazizi and other speakers. I developed a strong desire to see this diplomatic experiment succeed in creating peace, to the point that I started arguing back with radio commentators and getting frustrated when movies of TV shows offered up Iran as an easy villain.

Iran was just the beginning of my Radius education, which has included programs on nuclear policy, drone warfare, the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the way we think about enemies, the moral choices we make in wartime, and more. Through it all, I have learned that understanding our military and our foreign policy is not a hobby some people have, but essential work that every responsible citizen must do. We cannot honor our soldiers without grappling with the assumptions and decisions that led to their deaths.