At first glance Memorial Day weekend is a festive occasion: Aside from the barrage of car, furniture and mattress sales, many use the long weekend as their first mini-vacation, especially along the Gulf Coast where the beaches beckon and classes end. But its origins serve a much more somber purpose: to remember and honor those who have died defending our country.

Memorial Day became an official national holiday in 1971, but its roots go back to the days following the Civil War, when May 30 became a popular day to visit the graves of war casualties and clean them up and decorate them. It was known then as Decoration Day. In formalizing the holiday a century later through the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, Congress moved the day to the last Monday in May so that federal workers could enjoy a long work holiday.

Various community events will be held across the Rio Grande Valley beyond decorating slain soldiers’ graves. Parades, marches and other events are scheduled, and the entire nation is asked to pause at 3 p.m. Monday to pay respect to our war casualties.

We have long held that the best way to honor them is to ensure that future generations don’t have to make that same ultimate sacrifice without just cause. Our country should pursue policies that promote peace around the world, and avoid unnecessary confrontation.

That goal should be easy for a country that is generally regarded worldwide as having the nation’s strongest and most modern military forces. Few people likely would challenge us without provocation.

Unfortunately, that provocation is far too common; it seems we can’t help ourselves.

Currently, our administration is trading threats with North Korea and Iran. The latter has gotten so heated that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan recently worked up a military plan that prepares up to 120,000 U.S. troops for deployment to the Middle East if needed. Non-emergency U.S. workers in Iraq, Iran’s neighbor, were ordered to leave due to the risk of military aggression or terrorist attacks.

The saber rattling between Trump and Iranian leaders is getting serious. U.S. warships are on their way to the area, and the troops could follow; thousands of American military personnel already are serving in various surrounding countries.

Fortunately, we no longer have conscripted troops; our current fighting forces have volunteered for duty. But their pledge to offer their lives in defense of our country deserves an equal pledge from our government that no lives will be given without good reason. Silly political standoffs don’t meet that level of justification.

As we reflect on our relatives and friends who have died in our many military actions, let us also pray that no more names will be added to the list. Let no one be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice unless it’s in defense of our country’s welfare, not some politician’s pride.