U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, a man of so few words he was referred to by many as “Silent Cal”, delivered an uncharacteristically long speech at Gettysburg on May 30, 1928 to commemorate Memorial Day.
The context of his speech was a time in which Americans were looking inward, enjoying the prosperous boom years of the Roaring 20s and highly adverse to war. At the time, the U.S. and French were collaborating on an international treaty condemning war and renouncing it as an instrument of national policy. President Coolidge ended his speech with the following paragraph–
We have gathered to pay tribute to our soldier dead. This day is consecrated to their memory. It seems to me that the greatest honor that we can do to those who have died on the field of battle that this Republic might live is soberly to pledge ourselves to bend our every effort to prevent any recurrence of war. The government of the people, by the people, for the people, which Lincoln described in his immortal address, is a government of peace, not of war, and our dead will not have died in vain if, inspired by their sacrifice, we endeavour by every means within our power to prevent the shedding of human blood in the attempted settlement of international controversies. It is my earnest hope that success may crown the negotiations now in progress, and that the ideals which have inspired the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State of the United States in their joint efforts to find a solution of the problem of peace may find a practical realization in the early making of a multilateral treaty limiting future resort to war.
Yet the last 86 years have showed this lofty aspiration was nothing but a pipe dream. In the years following this speech, 405,399 American soldiers died in WWII, 36,516 more in Korea, 58,209 in Vietnam, 2,229 in Afghanistan, 4,488 in Iraq. And that is just the “big” conflicts…
Secluded in my own world of miles and points, the sober reality of such staggering death tolls is rarely considered. I wish I would reflect upon this more than once per year, but at least on this day, I express my gratitude to those who have died in loyal service to their country and only wish that the numbers above would not grow anymore.