Many gave all to ensure freedom [Editorial]

This July will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the event that would come to define the world as it exists today.

In modern times, it has come to be called World War I, but prior to the larger conflagration it spawned a scant two decades after its conclusion, it was known as the Great War. Mistakes made at the peace table after the armistice that marked the end of World War I are generally regarded by historians as having sown the seeds for World War II.

The first world war, however, left marks around the globe that remain to this day, from the borders of Iraq – drawn based on maps of ancient Mesopotamia with utter disregard to the reality that the territory had long since evolved into home to separate and disparate cultures – to Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Some, like the borders of Iraq, would prove to be confounding for decades. Others, like Aberdeen Proving Ground, would prove to be valuable military and economic assets.

This weekend, in Harford County and across the United States, we observe a holiday whose origins date to 49 years prior to the start of World War I, that being the Civil War, which drew to a close in April of 1865. Modern Memorial Day grew out of a tradition, begun in the Confederate states, of adorning the graves of slain soldiers. As the Confederate states were reincorporated into the Union, an uneasy process the echoes of which can still be heard in modern politics, the tradition of honoring Civil War dead spread to all the states.

At the time of World War I, the war between the states remained part of living memory, and the tradition of honoring war dead, unfortunately, would end up being expanded to include venerating the memories of those killed on the Western Front in Europe.

Since the end of World War I — which also has been called the War to End All Wars, seriously at first, but cynically since 1939 — plenty more conflicts have taken the lives of American warriors, whose memories are also honored in modern Memorial Day observances.

This weekend brings the first Memorial Day since the official end of American involvement in hostilities in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It would be foolish to presume they will be the last wars to add to the ranks of people honored on Memorial Day, but it certainly would be nice if it were.

That said, the reality is the necessary job done by those we remember this weekend is likely to remain in demand until the human condition improves substantially. Thanks, therefore, are also in order this weekend for those who have served, fought and survived.

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