While it’s appropriate and fitting to remember our war dead on Memorial Day, the day also points to one legitimate function of government: providing collective self-defense so that we can interact with each other in free markets.

Through providing for self-defense, governments, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, help us secure our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Free from external threats, we can engage in commerce of all sorts, participate in free association with others, and worship and think of external threats. We tend to not think much about the benefits this protection offers us, because, September 11, 2001 aside, we haven’t suffered from military (or military-like) action from outside interests since the War of 1812. Go to other parts of the world where armed hostilities from outsides threaten peaceful society (the Middle East is a prime example though far from the only one), and you begin to remember again the value of a government that is effective at carrying out its first fundamental duty: Protection from organized, armed, external threats.

It’s easy to focus on the ways in which our own governments threaten our God-given rights in ways small and large, and that’s important. But it’s also important, especially on national holidays such as Memorial Day, to remember that government has an important role in keeping us free.