Built on Facts

Memorial Day

It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.
– George S. Patton, June 7, 1945.


On this Memorial Day, we remember those members of the armed forces of the United States who have given their lives in the service of this, our Republic. We are and will always remain thankful for their service.

Now, a few links and thoughts as we enjoy the holiday. The Department of Defense has a fairly new podcast called Armed with Science, discussing the ever-present symbiosis between science and the art of war. For a few hours a while back the ScienceBlogs Page 3.14 blog linked to it before protests from a number of ScienceBloggers who think that science and the military should be entirely unconnected. A pox on that. Modern war – like all wars – is a terrible thing, but next to the indiscriminate near-complete bloodbaths that were the wars of the pre-modern era the rates of survival for both combatants and civilians are vastly greater. It is to science that we owe this, and it’s to the efforts of the military science of the United States and its allies that we owe much of that science. In WWII alone, scientific advances turned the tide for the Allies on numerous occasions: the invention of radar helped decide the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic, and the mathematical breakthroughs which cracked the Enigma code – just to name two of the most dramatic instances.

It’s also a good time to point out a great Memorial Day post from Starts With a Bang remembering the astronauts who have died in the space program, from Gemini-era training accidents to the Columbia.

Keep in mind the reason for the holiday, and have a fun extended weekend with your family and loved ones.


  1. #1 rhs
    May 25, 2009

    I don’t remember if I have said, thank you, yet. In any case, thanks. You write a consistently interesting human blog.

  2. #2 Matt
    May 25, 2009

    Yes it is a great benefit to the science that people wage wars.

  3. #3 Robert
    May 25, 2009

    About what we should expect from Texas A&M. I’m still not sure – is it a university or a military cult?

  4. #4 Cambrico
    May 25, 2009

    I find some irony in comments regarding science and war. Well, I think these ironic people wouldn’t mind be nazi slaves or would be delighted marching with swastikas. War has existed since the first homo erectus or homo something discovered how to smash the cranium of other homo something. So the other homo something had to invent war strategies to avoid become extint. It is a fact of life in this planet.
    At least we had humans that gave their lifes, knowledge and work to avoid their countries become slaves of other humans with less consideration for human rigths. My utmost respect for those people.

  5. #5 CCPhysicist
    May 26, 2009

    @3: Lived in 1970 lately? Seriously, “ROTC NAZI” is as old as bombing the physics building at Wisconsin, even if I agree with you that the TAMU band uniforms and marching style were out of fashion fifty years ago.

    No one will ever mistake me for a conservative, but I flew my flag on the house today and will fly it again on the real holiday (30 May). I remember the men who gave their lives for us whether I supported a particular conflict or not. All day today I have been thinking about the good buddy of one of my current students, a young man who got blown up by an IED just over two years ago.

    But if we do remember the reason for THIS particular holiday, the massive casualties in the War of Rebellion (aka the Civil War) that led to an organized plan to decorate the graves of the war dead no matter how far they were from home, it does help put modern war in perspective. The US had seen nothing like it in its entire history. Yet, despite the efficiency of the “modern” weapons that made that war so bloody, WW I and WW II were on an entirely different scale.

    0.6 out of 30 million (US Civil War, both sides)
    1.4 out of 40 million (France, military alone, during WW I)
    23 out of 170 million (Russia, including civilians, WW II)

    I don’t think you can make a factual case that technology and improvements in military science have made war any less brutal. We just haven’t seen anything other than minor skirmishes in your lifetime and mine.

    For that matter, the US never really experienced anything like the percentage losses that some countries did. For reference, France’s military deaths in WW I would correspond to the US losing 10 times as many men in WW II than we actually did, corresponding to about one half of the men who served in the US Army during that war.

  6. #6 Matt Springer
    May 26, 2009

    It will probably eventually make an interesting post on this site, but apparently one can make a good case that the dispersive tactics forced by modern weaponry result in fewer percent casualties in spite of the increased lethality of the weaponry.

    In the modern world it has tended to be relatively low-tech battles like Stalingrad (or massacres like Rwanda) that kill the most. Higher-tech fights seem to be less deadly for both sides, though there hasn’t really been a large-scale war between 21st century high-tech powers.

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  13. #13 Justine
    May 17, 2011

    i love memorial day. my uncle john went into the army. he came home for good. he said that 6 years was long enough for him.. I thank God for keeping him safe!!!!

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