Among the most troubling catchphrases politicians have used in recent years is to decry U.S. involvement in conflicts as “forever wars.” 

It is true that engaging in a long-term military action without a strategic end in sight is a political failure. It signals a lack of clearly defined objectives and, in some cases, the resolve to commit resources and manpower necessary to achieve clearly defined goals.

But make no mistake. The United States, because it is a beacon of hope, liberty and the realization of human potential over authoritarian might, will “forever” need to fight wars to preserve and defend its principles at home and abroad.

During the past year, two administrations in Washington have worked to draw down American soldiers from Afghanistan. The reasons behind this are solid. A further prolonged presence there was not likely to accomplish any objectives greater than those already achieved. No conflict should continue forever. 

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However, the continual use of the term “forever war” as a pejorative in association with any conflict runs the risk of devaluing the ultimate sacrifice made by so many brave American men and women.

On this Memorial Day, we agree with Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley, who nearly two years ago said he “could not look myself in the mirror” if he believed the many soldiers killed in Afghanistan had died in vain.

Milley described nights when he couldn’t sleep because the honor roll of the dead was passing in front of his eyes, according to remarks reported by

That honor roll extends far beyond those killed in Afghanistan. It rolls back nearly 250 years to the earliest patriots who gave their lives to establish a nation where true power resides in the people, not their leaders, and where freedom has served as a powerful lure for oppressed men and women everywhere.

Total U.S. combat deaths since 1775 have been estimated at about 1.3 million, a staggering figure that history suggests will grow in coming years.

But the fruits of forever fighting to preserve those freedoms can be seen in the faces of people all over the United States, who live in relative peace and prosperity, who express opinions without fear of official retribution, who cast ballots, travel freely and pursue careers of their own choosing.

It can be seen in the faces of people who live in countries that once were conquered by the United States only to be set free to govern themselves once hostilities subsided.

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Perhaps no conflict has seemed like more of a forever war than the nation’s own Civil War. It produced casualties in excess of 655,000 — far more than any other conflict — and involved Americans killing Americans. And yet many of the racial divisions that inflamed it still simmer across the land.

Despite this, we are inspired by the words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delivered in the darkest days of that war.

“It is for us the living ... to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced,” he said. “It is ... for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

On this Memorial Day, we remember the sacrifice of the fallen and their families, and we recognize our own responsibility today — no soldier dies in vain when each of us nobly holds the nation’s ideals aloft for the world to see. 

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