Monday, May 27, 2013

On Memorial Day, a reminder of who made our Republic a reality

Here's a good reminder of who secured our freedom as an independent Republic:  A Tradition of Sacrifice, From Yorktown to Ramadi.  As the author of this op-ed, a former Navy Seal, writes:
Let's remember on Memorial Day—and every other day, for that matter—that America did not become a nation without a fight. Last week, I found myself in Washington, D.C., admiring a bronze statue of George Washington. The statue shows him as a general, astride a horse, sword drawn at the ready. This was Washington as a true American leader, inspiring those around him by showing that he too was willing to risk death for the cause of victory. The statue brought to mind the thousands of soldiers who marched with him into battle against the British, facing seemingly impossible odds.  
It was not the Declaration of Independence that gave us freedom but the Continental Army. America was born from conflict, delivered by soldiers willing to pay with their blood the tremendous cost of freedom. 
The dead did not wish to be martyred. They no doubt longed to return to their homes and families. But they believed in the "glorious cause," something far greater than themselves. Despite knowing the dangers before them, they followed Gen. Washington into the fray even when victory seemed hopeless and the cause all but lost.
A special thanks to all the men and women who have served our country honorably in its defense, and especially those who have given the last full measure of their devotion to our country and its cause.  You have helped to preserve freedom not just here at home, but have defended it abroad, from Valley Forge to the Shores of Tripoli, from Bull Run to San Juan Hill, from Omaha Beach to the Berlin Wall, from Inchon to Afghanistan. Thank you.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Reading the internet today, Mark, it's like we'll do anything to avoid reality.

"Google announcing the winner of its doodle competition for 2013. This year Sabrina Brady, a high school student from Sparta, Wisconsin, won with an entry fitting (perhaps “all together fitting”) Memorial Day tributes. According to press coverage, Brady’s entry depicted the return home of her father after an 18-month deployment in Iraq."

But that's Veterans Day. Memorial Day is about

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

"the last full measure of devotion," BF mine

Mark D. said...

Yup. I specifically included that phrase from Lincoln in order to emphasize that today is a day to specially honor those who have sacrificed their lives to defend our nation. Although I don't see anything wrong with also remembering the men and women who have served our country and who haven't been called upon to make that level of sacrifice. When people leave their families and communities and journey far to endure the risk of death or injury on our behalf, I think that it can be appropriate to honor their sacrifice too on more than one holiday.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Although I don't see anything wrong with also remembering the men and women who have served our country and who haven't been called upon to make that level of sacrifice.

I think it's a conscious or at least unconscious effort to undermine the role of war--of violence, let's be frank--in securing our freedoms, tossing it all into an undifferentiated happy soup of military "service."

JMS said...

I admire George Washington and the Continental army’s courage and determination in the face of adversity as much as anyone, and honoring our veterans is the least we can do for them.

But this op-ed conflates categories - liberty and freedom, patriotism, nationalism or militarism - that the founders would have delineated very carefully. Patriotism to the founders (who feared “standing armies” as a fundamental threat to rights and liberties) meant a responsibility to fellow citizens and devotion to the common weal, not charging up San Juan hill.

Throughout U.S. history, freedom has always been especially vulnerable in times of crisis or war, when people fear that their security is threatened (e.g., quasi-war with France, Civil War, WW I, WW II, Cold War and since 9/11/2001). Appeals to national unity and patriotism usually create more rigid and exclusionary boundaries to liberty and freedom.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Appeals to national unity and patriotism usually create more rigid and exclusionary boundaries to liberty and freedom.

Or you could be saying that in German or Russian right now.

JMS said...

TVD - objection noted, but hardly noteworthy. Of course there is more to WW II or the Cold War than I could put in a comment to a blog. But I thought AC was supposed to be about history, not hagiography.

I was objecting to the pervasive sentimental, hagiographic political correctness about Memorial Day propagated by elected officials and the media.

I'll rest my case with James Madison: "Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."
Political Observations, Apr. 20, 1795

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'll rest my case with James Madison...

Yes, but his abstract musings in 1795 didn't quite hold come 1812 and "Mr. Madison's War."

Or even until 1803, when Mr. jefferson fought the original Great War on Islamic Terror, vs. the Barbary pirates*.

I was objecting to the pervasive sentimental, hagiographic political correctness about Memorial Day propagated by elected officials and the media.

We owe our freedom to those who died for it.


*America and the Barbary Pirates: An
International Battle Against an Unconventional Foe

by Gerard W. Gawalt

Gerard W. Gawalt is the manuscript specialist for early American history in the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Ruthless, unconventional foes are not new to the United States of America. More than two hundred years ago the newly established United States made its first attempt to fight an overseas battle to protect its private citizens by building an international coalition against an unconventional enemy. Then the enemies were pirates and piracy. The focus of the United States and a proposed international coalition was the Barbary Pirates of North Africa.

Pirate ships and crews from the North African states of Tripoli, Tunis, Morocco, and Algiers (the Barbary Coast) were the scourge of the Mediterranean. Capturing merchant ships and holding their crews for ransom provided the rulers of these nations with wealth and naval power. In fact, the Roman Catholic Religious Order of Mathurins had operated from France for centuries with the special mission of collecting and disbursing funds for the relief and ransom of prisoners of Mediterranean pirates.

Mark D. said...

Tom, thanks for posting here -- strong reflections worth pondering.

JMS said...

Tom - you are wrong about Madison.

Of course, the War of 1812 was not fought for freedom (ask any Canadian or Tecumseh). It was about territorial aggrandizement by nationalistic "war hawks."

But what you cited has nothing to do with refuting what either I or Madison said about war and liberty.

Madison is the exception to the rule of most U.S. presidents violating civil liberties during wartime.

The historical record of the War of 1812 shows clearly that Madison was not just engaging in "abstract musings." "The War of 1812 did not see serious infringement of civil liberties."‎

Tom Van Dyke said...

JMS, you were doing a meta against "war" and using Madison, who went on to conduct a fairly stupid war himself.

The original topic here is Memorial Day, and as much as Madison was right that war sucks, your freedom--and Black America's in particular!--was won and was secured by it and the men who fought and died.

And yes, I think there has been a conscious or unconscious effort by persons such as yourself

I was objecting to the pervasive sentimental, hagiographic political correctness about Memorial Day propagated by elected officials and the media.

to reduce the gravity of Memorial Day and diminish the contribution of those who gave that last full measure of devotion, who fought and died for our country.

Indeed, Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, originally conceived to honor those who fought in WWI. That too has been diluted to honoring those who simply served.

[Not that veterans who didn't serve in combat don't deserve honor as well, but perhaps not on the same level as those who risked their lives.]

see also

Certain leftpersons in Great Britain have disdained the wearing of the poppies. "Political correctness" indeed, sir.

Some have criticized the level of compulsion associated with the custom, something Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow has called "poppy fascism". Columnist Dan O'Neill wrote that "presenters and politicians seem to compete in a race to be first – poppies start sprouting in mid-October while the absence of a poppy is interpreted as absence of concern for the war dead, almost as an unpatriotic act of treachery". Likewise, Jonathan Bartley of the religious think-tank Ekklesia said "public figures in Britain are urged, indeed in many cases, required, to wear ... the red poppy, almost as an article of faith. There is a political correctness about the red poppy".

Journalist Robert Fisk complained that the poppy has become a seasonal "fashion accessory" and that people were "ostentatiously wearing a poppy for social or work-related reasons, to look patriotic when it suited them". Kleshna, one of two businesses with an exclusive tie-in with the RBL, sells expensive crystal-clad poppy jewelry that has been worn by celebrities.

So thanks for confirming Comment #1 in this thread, JMS. In the USA, the diminishment of the meaning of Memorial Day is more cleverly conducted, by dilution. As for British patriotism, aside from soccer and the Falklands, the poppies seem to be almost all that's left of it.