Analysis & Opinions - The National Interest

Remembering Memorial Day: We Must Avoid World War III

| May 24, 2024

As we wind down for a relaxed Memorial Day weekend, I urge us all to pause, reflect, and give thanks for the fact that most of us have lived their entire lives in a world without great power war. Just last month we entered the 79th year since Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. This longest peace—that is longest period without great power war—has no precedent in history. It is not natural, not permanent, and not to be taken for granted.

Instead, it is the amazing result of great statecraft and sticktuitiveness by those who built the post-World War II order—and by successive Democratic and Republican administrations over the decades since. And the foundation on which that peace has been sustained is the most powerful military force in the world that has made possible “peace through strength.”

So my suggestion for this weekend is that each of us reach out to at least a dozen veterans and currently serving members of the US military to say: thank you.

The freedoms we so often take for granted are not natural facts. The freedom to exercise our endowed rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that so many individuals across the world lack are not free. As George Orwell reminded us: we and our families sleep safely in our beds only because rough men stand vigilant around the world ready to do violence.

Seven years ago, I published in Politico an article titled, “On Memorial Day, What do the Living Owe the Dead?” My answer: “We owe them the courage and wisdom to prevent the next war.” As the article argues, the “unnecessary wars” we should do our most and best to avoid are not just the tragic sideshows like Iraq in 2003 or America’s failed occupation of Afghanistan. Instead, we must avoid the successor to the grand reapers of the past century: World War I and World War II. We must avoid World War III.

The claim that either or both of the previous world wars were unnecessary may be surprising. But a careful examination of the road that led from the conditions statesmen faced at the beginning of the 20th century to the conflagration that essentially destroyed Europe finds many paths untaken that could have led to resolutions of differences without war.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Allison, Graham.“Remembering Memorial Day: We Must Avoid World War III.” The National Interest, May 24, 2024.