On Memorial Day, Remember Skepticism Toward a Large, Standing Military
In recent years, it's become common to thank both retired and active-duty military personnel for their service – an expression met with various measures of appreciation or discomfort by recipients. The new custom is a step beyond the long-established sentiments embodied by Memorial Day, which acknowledges those who fell in combat in the ranks of a rare American institution that retains wide public confidence. While the thank-yous are well-intentioned, they represent a shift in attitude for a country that once distrusted anything resembling a powerful military. They also gloss over the costs—acknowledged on Memorial Day—of war and vast armed establishments. Those costs are worth emphasizing as the U.S. finally prepares to extract itself from a two-decade conflict in Afghanistan.
"A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty," James Madison, later to become fourth president of the United States, argued at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. "Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people."