That the sacrifices of our soldiers will not be in vain
As I read the newspaper this morning, I saw a photograph of a young woman in Arlington National Cemetery kissing the headstone of her boyfriend, who was a Marine killed in Iraq In August. The beauty of the simplicity of military headstones has always underscored to me the tragedy of warfare and young lives ended all too early.
In the photograph, I noticed the emblem of belief on the headstone over the grave next to this Marine's was a round symbol I did not recognize. I later found this site, and learned that the symbol I saw was for a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, otherwise known as Mormons. I was not aware that there was a separate symbol for that faith. There is even a symbol for the Baha'i and Buddhist faiths, which surprises me, given the pacifist credal statements of those two religions. Interestingly, there are over thirty-eight different religious denominations which can be represented symbolically on military headstones. It is inspiring that the religious beliefs of our fallen heroes can be memorialized on their monuments. But these headstones do not simply communicate religious beliefs in this creed or that creed. Their very presence, as our heroes rest eternally beneath those headstones, is a far more lasting tribute to their faith-- the faith they placed in the ideals of this country.
There are two events coming up next week that bracket what we can do to show our real support for our servicemen and servicewomen: Veteran's Day, and Election Day. On Veteran's Day we can honor our brave men and women through remembrances. On election day, we can honor them through our actions.
As Veteran's Day approaches, I would hope that everyone in this country would truly contemplate what sacrifices our men and women in uniform have made. They are willing to put their lives at risk to defend our country, which is founded on the ideals of freedom. We must protect ourselves from all those who seek to abrogate that freedom-- including people in our own country who seek to use fear and anger to entice us to give up that freedom in an elusive chase for security in an extremely unsafe world. We have the right and responsibility to defend ourselves. We must never, however, abandon the moral high ground-- even in the name of an ultimate good-- in the name of expediency. No lasting good can ever come of abandoning the very principles which we claim to be defending.
My father and others of his generation left their homes and families to defeat the forces of destruction, slavery, and genocide in World War II. We Americans and our leaders placed the fortunes of our country on the line to save untold millions from suffering and death in part because we were living up to the ideal that our country is an example for the world. As John Winthrop declared in 1630 in his sermon entitled, A Model of Christian Charity, when speaking of the founding of European settlement in the Massachusetts Bay, "...we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us...."
Mr. Winthrop was speaking of the Puritans as a religious example. However, over time, we Americans have used this same phrase to claim that we are an exemplar of good in the world. President Ronald Reagan himself borrowed this image for his farewell address in 1989. We were willing to sacrifice to the utmost to live up to this ideal in World War II through desperate struggle upon the fields of battle. Even as the echoes of the tumult still lingered in the air, at the conclusion of that deadly struggle, America then dedicated itself to helping the victims of war rebuild their lives through programs such as the Marshall Plan to continue that sacrifice in time of peace.
We still face a historic struggle today. The forces of liberty still face the forces of absolutism- at home and abroad. We cannot convert the forces of hatred by instilling more hate; we cannot answer those who accuse us of injustice by perpetuating more injustice. We must not only do what is fair, we must do what is RIGHT, or we will become more than "a story and a by-word throughout the world." We will become that which we decry. The face we show to the world must not mirror the thin-lipped, bared-teeth aggression and violence of our enemies.
One of the most significant blessings our heroes have sacrificed for is the right to hold our government leaders accountable for truly representing us. The midterm elections are next week, and it is incumbent upon all of us the responsibly exercise the right and responsibility of demanding that our elected representatives do not indulge in the pejorative politics of name-calling over rational discourse, in senseless sound-bites over responsible rhetoric and policy, in appealling to fear over issuing a clarion call to actions which remain true to our calling as an exemplar not just of freedom but more importantly of responsibility to our fellow-man and fellow-woman.
I look at the photograph again, and marvel at the strength of purpose of one so young. May God watch over this young man and all those who have given their lives in the service of our country, and all those who serve our country. We owe our servicemen and servicewomen our full support. We also owe the same unswerving fealty to the principles for which they served.
Remember our veterans on November 11. Honor their sacrifices on November 7.