Our Opinion: Honoring sacrifices of those who fought in our endless wars

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It's one of the laws of human conflict. When a locality sends members of its citizenry off to defend the country, some of those sons and daughters make the ultimate sacrifice in a far-off land, never to return to their hometown and family.

A grateful community erects a memorial to those of its own who have fallen, and the solemnity of such a monument provides those whom they defended an opportunity to express their gratitude what they stand for as a nation, and what about America makes it so worth defending to the death.

Particularly in these turbulent political times, we who cherish the concept of "America" differ — sometimes violently — on exactly how that concept ought to be defined. One thing we can all agree upon, however, is that none of us would be enjoying the freedoms we take for granted were it not for our willingness to meet the periodic need to defend them through force of arms.

Berkshire County has sent its share of its population to do battle on its nation's behalf; in the case of the volunteers it dispatched to distant battlefields during the Civil War, sons of the Berkshires fought to keep our union together. As with subsequent conflicts, many valiantly heeded the call, and some died answering it. As our nation progresses further into the 21st century, we find that the underlying forces of human nature that make armed conflict necessary have not abated, but that the character of such conflict has changed.

The city of North Adams, for example, maintains a memorial to its citizens who died in two world wars, as well as in Vietnam and Korea (Eagle, August 21). These were cataclysms that had, at least, clear conclusions to overt hostilities. Today, the American people find themselves in a protracted, possibly endless "Global War on Terror" that has claimed enough local lives already to be worthy of its own plaque on the wall of honor. We can no longer expect that this kind of war will conclude with a treaty-signing ceremony on the deck of a battleship; today's enemies are shadowy and amorphous figures. They do not represent nation-states, but sometimes act alone or in small groups, and seek to disrupt our society and security by unconventional means.

What remains unchanged are the significance and ultimate meaning of the sacrifice made by those who fight in this new kind of war. Their names deserve their rightful spot on the memorial alongside those of their colleagues who fell in more "conventional" conflicts. North Adams hopes to have the new plaque, bearing new names, dedicated by next Memorial Day. For this effort, we salute and thank both North Adams and its fallen heroes.


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