We fly our flags and post our pictures of the orderly rows of gravestones in veterans’ cemeteries; we call to mind our fathers or sons or brothers or cousins (and, more frequently, now, our mothers and daughters and sisters) who died while serving in time of war.

All this is fitting; we should remember these men and women, and grieve for them. We remember them all as brave and noble, though in truth they were people not much different than we are: sometimes brave, sometimes not. Sometimes noble, sometimes not.

We determine the value of their deaths: “the land of the free, because of the brave,” we like to say. We think of each death as a sacrifice and we want each death to be worth the awful price paid, remembering Lincoln’s great words at Gettysburg: “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

We fly our flags and post our pictures; but sometimes in a dark night we awake and find that even the great words bring little comfort.