By Dylan Ramos
Some people think that Memorial Day and military casualties ought to be above politicization, off-limits to those pushing their own self-aggrandizing agendas. While I understand the underlying sentiment — that our fellow citizens did not sacrifice their lives for others to gain power — I firmly believe that when it comes to our armed forces, we as a country are obligated to look into the mirror and ask ourselves, how can we do better and how can we make sure that our brothers and sisters did not die in vain?
History proves that we have plenty of work to do if we truly want to honor our military. Whether we’re talking about the thousands of people who fought for civil rights after returning home from World War II, the millions who have protested wars from Vietnam to Iraq, the 40,000-plus veterans currently sleeping out on the street, or the hundreds of veteran suicides that happen every year, the United States needs a commander in chief who understands Memorial Day.
That said, the numbers above are probably more appropriate to remember on November 11, when we honor the veterans who remain with us. But on Memorial Day, as people from Punchbowl to Arlington look upon the graves of buried soldiers, we should remember that the biggest, most important promise a president can make to our military is that no more soldiers will die for others to profit; no more soldiers will be sent to fight wars the American people haven’t even approved; no more soldiers will be sacrificed for a disastrous and destabilizing foreign policy; no more soldiers will be propagandized to fund war over peace.
Among the 26 major candidates eyeing the 2020 election thus far, only three seem to understand the true lesson of Memorial Day. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, and former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska stand apart from the crowd as the clearest voices for peace and opposition to America’s “forever wars.”
Sanders is the only 2020 candidate to have voted against all of President Trump’s proposals to increase the already bloated, misused, and war-minded military budget. Meanwhile, Sanders’ proposal to limit support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen remains the only bill to ever invoke the 1973 War Powers Resolution and still pass both houses of Congress.
Gabbard, a veteran herself, has been a loud advocate for bipartisan reform of U.S. interventionist policies. She even garnered praise from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson when she spoke out against U.S. regime change wars, calling them antithetical to America’s stated goals of national security, anti-terrorism, and stability in the Middle East.
Finally, Gravel earns an easy third spot on this list for prefacing his entire 2020 campaign with a tweet that said, “The goal will not be to win, but to bring a critique of American imperialism to the Democratic debate stage.”
Now, though I have no empirical evidence to back this claim, I say with full confidence that not a single U.S. soldier has ever died for the purpose of being remembered on Memorial Day. Some were involuntarily drafted, others were seeking a new path in life, and of course there are the many who enlisted solely as patriots wishing to serve their country. But not one of them ever went to war so that our elected leaders could cry crocodile tears and continue sending more Americans to die.
This Monday, I ask you to think seriously about the costs of war, reflect on our past, plan for our future, and figure out for yourself which candidates truly understand the meaning of Memorial Day. Thank you, and God bless America.
Dylan Ramos is a senior political science major at Loyola Marymount University and has been published in Honolulu Civil Beat, Asia Media International, and elsewhere. He also served as a precinct-level delegate for Sen. Sanders to the 2016 Democratic Party of Hawaii State Convention.