Today is Memorial Day here in the United States. At this time, we often hear many of the buzzwords that accompany such a holiday: "Thank you" for the "ultimate sacrifice." "Defending freedom." "Never forget." "Remember those who have given their lives." Etc. These are sincere, well-meaning platitudes, but what are we actually grateful for? What, exactly, did the men and women of our armed forces die for?
The notion of freedom wasn't floating around in the ether. It is a concept that was developed and constructed over time. Yes, lots of folks have died to protect freedom, but to honor them, to remember them and be thankful for their sacrifice without acknowledging the concept that they died for and how it came to be, renders their deaths meaningless.
We can look at religious texts and ideologies for the concept of free will. Religious and spiritual philosophies -- as well as secular ones -- have espoused the notion of free will for millennia. Philosophers, prophets, etc. have waxed poetic about what constitutes free will and, in-turn, freedom, so we have them to thank for it. From that sprung the idea of liberty, religious, political and economic freedom.
The aforementioned freedoms have not been static. At the very least, they have remained open to interpretation. This is why we have amendments to the Constitution, executive and legislative branches, and a judicial system. Freedom is a living, breathing concept. It has assumed different forms over the millennia, and yet the belief in free will remains at its core. The belief that people have the right to strive for their own destiny, to believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This is what they died for. And not just our beloved members of the armed forces. Let us not forget the sacrifices made by folks such as Hypatia, Uriel da Costa, Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X. Not to mention those who risked their lives in the pursuit of freedom for others (Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, to name but two). One need not wear a uniform in order to have defended freedom.
On this, and every, Memorial Day, let us honor those who have risked and given their lives defending a free society. It may not be perfect, but it's one of the best we have, and we are constantly working to improve it. Sometimes we stumble, but that is our way. Let us not forget the concept of freedom for which people sacrifice, and why it is worth dying for. That is the ultimate way to honor those who have fallen.