This Memorial Day weekend offers Americans a chance to pause and reflect, to reconvene, and join together after what is doubtlessly a difficult time.

While the nation celebrates service members and veterans, almost 200,000 Americans are currently deployed abroad, and James Stavridis hopes that Americans can reflect on the duty they perform.

As the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and a 37 year veteran of the Navy, Stavridis told The Cats Roundtable about two particular moments in his life when the meaning of Memorial Day shined crystal clear.

The first was a Memorial Day ceremony when he was a new captain, in the deep ocean of the North Atlantic.  Stavridis had gathered his crew, and as part of a wreath-laying ceremony, discussed the legacy that they were now a part of.

“I talked to the crew about how we were a part of this long unbroken chain, and that the time could come for us to stand and deliver for our nation in the ultimate way, as so many have done,” Stavridis said.

The second moment was in 2011, when as the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, he went to a base near Kandahar, Afghanistan over the Memorial Day weekend.  The insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan were claiming over a hundred service members a month, and Stavridis called it “a time of great sacrifice.”

“I was with the Marines there, and they held a Memorial Day service for all who had fallen from their units during the months leading up to that,” Stavridis said.  “It brought home to me the ultimate sacrifice that so many of our troops have made in these so-called ‘forever wars.’”

While he was happy he was able to now celebrate Memorial Day with family and friends, he hoped that Americans can also “reflect on what this day is really all about.”

There’s little doubt that much of America’s focus has shifted inward with the pandemic, but Stavridis told The Cats Roundtable this Memorial Day is no time for blinders, especially in the case of China.

Even as Beijing faces growing scrutiny for its response to the coronavirus, some commentators warn China could use the pandemic as a veil to bring dissent to heel.  In Hong Kong, where the virus halted months-long Democratic protests, dissent is again boiling up, and China has made overtures that it is looking to bring an end to them.

“What we’re seeing is the rise of China in this 21st century,” Stavridis said.  “China intends to be a competitor to the United States, and we cannot back down to that.”

Stavridis said China’s ambitions necessitate a cohesive strategy that includes the cooperation of U.S. “allies, partners, and friends.”  This international cooperation needs to occur in conjunction with the Trump administration’s current efforts to balance the trade and tariff relationship with China.

Finally, Stavridis mentions that any strategy has to include U.S. military presence, and with thousands of U.S. personnel stationed in Asia, he hopes Americans in the states can keep those service members in mind.

“Think about all those Sailors and Marines who are at sea today in the South China Sea, standing up to China’s territorial claims,” he said.  “Think about all the Army soldiers and Air Force fighter pilots on the Korean Peninsula who are ready to fight tonight if they have to.”

Listen to the interview below


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