There is a subtle and sometimes not so subtle belittlement of the dead from those who simply pity the brave young men who went to war but did not return. There are those who see them as deluded by cynical politicians — the young and the naive who were sacrificed to the cynical ambitions of demagogues and profiteers. There are those who think they have performed their duty to the fallen if they pity the folly of the dead and the darkness of the times in which they lived.

Pity and compassion can be noble emotions, but wallowing in these feelings is not what Memorial Day should be about. Our duty to the fallen is not just one of remembrance, or of caring for the wounded or those the warriors left behind. We also owe a debt of emulation: to continue to fight and if necessary to die for the great causes of our time. To fight an ideology of hatred that masks itself as religion is a noble and a generous thing to do; those who give their lives in the fight against this great evil are not victims. They are heroes, and they deserve to be remembered as such.

Not every soldier who dies, dies on a critical mission. That is not the nature of war. Some skirmishes are sideshows; not every encounter determines a battle, not every battle determines a campaign, and not every campaign leads to victory and peace. The generals who ordered those boys and young men into No Man’s Land in Flanders were incompetent bunglers more often than not. This does not vitiate the heroism or render meaningless the sacrifice of those who laid down their lives in that war.