This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

May 29, 2002 - Memorial Day--The Numbers

Recently, I read David McCullough's biography of John Adams. It enthralled me. Adams was the true architect of our whole form of government. Moreover, he was genuinely wise.

Too often these days, we predicate our lives on our rights, on what we believe we are entitled to receive. Adams's life was based on something seldom even mentioned today: the concept of duty.

As we contemplate Memorial Day, I offer the following reflection on our history. First, Memorial Day itself. For many years known as "Decoration Day" (for the decoration of Civil War veterans' graves), the first observance is generally regarded to have occurred on May 5, 1866, in Waterloo, New York.

Consider these facts as well. Since its inception, the United States of America has participated in at least 10 wars.

Not everyone is a soldier. Expressed as a percentage of the population, here's who enlisted:

* Revolutionary War - 5.7%
* War of 1812 - 3.8% * Mexican War - .4%
* Civil War (combined) - 11.1%
* Spanish-American War - .4%
* World War I - 4.6%
* World War II - 12.2%
* Korean War - 3.8%
* Vietnam War - 4.3%
* Gulf War - 1.1%

Here's how many people died or were wounded in those conflicts:

* Revolutionary War - 10,623
* War of 1812 - 6,765
* Mexican War - 17,435
* Civil War - 970,227 (634,703 Union, 335,524 Confederate)
* Spanish-American War - 4,108
* World War I - 320,710
* World War II - 1,078,162
* Korean War - 136,935
* Vietnam War - 211,471
* Gulf War - 760
* The total: 2,752,243

And for the fiscally minded among you, here's what it cost per capita, in 1990 dollars:

* Revolutionary War - $342.86
* War of 1812 - $92.11
* Mexican War - $52.13
* Civil War (combined) - $1,294.46
* Spanish American War - $84.45
* WWI - $1,911.47
* WWII - $15,655.17
* Korean War - $1,739.62
* Vietnam War - $1,692.04
* Gulf War - $235

What does all this mean?

First, it means that those who lay their lives on the line to defend our country are always a surprisingly small fraction of the whole. In the history of our nation, it has never risen above 13 percent.

Second, as shown above, many of those who have put their lives on the line did in fact die as a result. They gave all their days to their nation. And their deaths had significance not only for their country, but also, enduringly, for their families.

Third, the costs of war are shared. We commit tax dollars for defense. There are personal costs. But as many have observed, liberty is not cheap, and some wars have purchased that, even if others have not.
The Douglas Public Library District closes each year on Memorial Day. We do this, as do many governmental institutions, to honor the dead. We also do this to allow our staff to attend whatever observances they may choose.

As John Adams wrote, "Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people." The library is a good place to explore not only how our soldiers fought, but for what..

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