Amnesia on Memorial Day

By | May 26, 2013 | 0 Comments

New York City, 2001

Amnesiacs can’t remember their enemies, so they don’t avoid them. And they can’t remember their friends, so they aren’t grateful to them. Expressing gratitude is good for us as well as for those we thank. It reminds us of how fortunate we are. It makes us more likely to be happy. On the contrary, ingratitude hurts both us and those we insult:

University student given failing grade for participating in Army Reserve.
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Two soldiers in uniform asked to leave mall. A blogger comments, “They can go back to flipping burgers or emptying waste baskets, for all I care. I can defend my own freedom − without an army − thank you very much.”
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Wife of soldier serving in Iraq told, in front of her young child, that if he were killed he would “get what he deserves.”
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Couple in restaurant loudly refuse to be seated next to military personnel in uniform.
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Computer store offers discount to military families. But when wife shows ID card, clerk sneers, “We forgive you.”
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In response to inquiry from soldier, company e-mails, “We do not ship to APO addresses, and even if we did, we would NEVER ship to Iraq. If you were sensible, you and your troops would pull out of Iraq.”
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Disabled veteran marching in July Fourth parade called “murderer” and “baby killer.
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TV dramas show American troops returning from Iraq as crazy, suicidal, homicidal, drug addicted, or all of the above.
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For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ’is country” when the guns begin to shoot.
– Rudyard Kipling, “Tommy

How do you observe Memorial Day? Do you go to the mall to check out the sales, or invite friends for a barbecue? These are pleasant activities, but what do you do that distinguishes this day from any other day off work? I visit our National Cemetery and say thanks.
But if we are amnesiacs, we don’t remember our soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and coastguardsmen. We want to enjoy the fruits of their difficult and dangerous service without honoring them. And just as we associate dentists with toothaches, we associate military personnel with war – as if they, rather than politicians, caused it. No, they are the ones who have to deal with the mess that politicians made.
When you see a person in uniform, do you feel a bond with someone who is willing to risk death or disability to defend you and your family? Or do you feel distant, as if you were in the presence of a creature from another planet – a Klingon, perhaps? Can you recognize his or her rank and branch of service, much less the decorations and service ribbons?
Are you grateful to people who risk their lives so you can remain safe at home? Are you thankful to those who endure heat, cold, fear, and exhaustion, while to you missing lunch is a hardship? Do you respect those who endure hostile gunfire, while to you an angry boss is frightening? Do you honor those who keep their self-control in mortal danger, while you “lose it” when your computer acts up?
When I was a kid, I was taught that the red stripes of our flag represent the blood that was shed to keep it flying. That lesson inspired gratitude. Kids need to be taught gratitude – it doesn’t come by itself. Only weeds grow spontaneously.
Are we grateful to anyone for anything? Many Americans were raised as narcissists who believe themselves entitled to everything, merely because they do the planet the favor of living on it.
Why be grateful to the Founding Fathers for their brilliance in establishing our republic? After all, America is no better than any other country − and perhaps worse. Why be grateful to those who fight and die to preserve freedom? After all, we aren’t perfect.
Why be grateful to the 16 million men and women who fought to conquer Nazi Germany and imperial Japan – and the 492,000 who died? After all, “War is not the answer.” (For military casualty data, click here.)
No, war is not the answer − if the question is, “What’s for lunch?” But war is the answer if the question is, “What ended slavery?” or “What liberated Europe from the Nazis?” or “What ended the Holocaust?” or “What liberated the people, especially the women, of Afghanistan and Iraq?” For the right answers, we have to ask the right questions. We have to know a little history.
But now, many high-school graduates can’t place the Civil War in the right century, much less the right decade. Historian Arnold Toynbee observed that civilizations aren’t killed − they commit suicide. We are doing our best to prove him right.
Do the Malmédy massacre, the Chosin Reservoir, or the Hanoi Hilton mean anything to us? We use the Nimitz Freeway, MacArthur Boulevard, and Basilone Road, but do we know what the names signify? Have we ever heard of Alvin York, Audie Murphy, or “Chesty” Puller?
What about current heroes? Can kids identify even one of the 11 Medal of Honor recipients in the current War on Terror? Can they identify Rick Rescorla or Todd Beamer? Can you? If not, we are ingrates who are unworthy of .the sacrifices that were made, and are being made, for us. We do not deserve freedom, and are unlikely to have it for long in a dangerous world.
We complain that young people have no positive role models, but whose fault is that? We eliminated anything that sounds “too American” from schools, and we substituted “multiculturalism” − meaning respect for all cultures except our own. I’ll bet serious money that more Americans can identify Ché Guevara than can identify Rick Rescorla or Todd Beamer. We idolize their thugs rather than our heroes. Is that a recipe for survival?
Cultural amnesia is endemic throughout the Western world. I’ll also bet that more Britons can identify Ché Guevara than can identify even one of the six recent recipients of the Victoria Cross, their highest award for valor. Those who ignore their heroes don’t deserve them − and may not have them when they are needed most. If you want to see how heroes should be honored, watch the Donaldson video.
Why remember those who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan? After all, “It’s all about oil.” Rooting out terrorists is merely a “cover.” These half-baked theories absolve us of all responsibility to feel grateful to those in our armed services. We can then ignore their welfare, and that of our veterans, and turn our backs – feeling no obligation whatever.
Amnesiacs know nothing of what happened before they were born, and little of what happened since. They don’t feel grateful for anything, because they believe they were born entitled to everything:
● They feel entitled to sleep peacefully in their beds, while police arrest violent criminals without using force.
● They feel entitled to go to their office buildings in safety, while security personnel struggle to stop terrorists from bringing those buildings crashing down.
● They feel entitled to live free from terrorist attacks, while they condemn the people and the methods that keep them safe.
● They feel entitled to say, “We support our troops,” while they denounce what the troops do and hold the troops in contempt. For, example Secretary of State Kerry claimed that only ignorant losers without job prospects would enlist. And President Obama twice mispronounced Navy corpsman as “corpse-man.” If that’s “support,” what would contempt, ignorance, and snobbery look like?
● They feel entitled to live in freedom and security, while they look down in arrogance and disdain on those who risk death or disability to keep them free and secure.
The next time you see someone in uniform, honor the people who do dangerous work so that we can live in safety, and resolve to do something concrete to show you mean it. And on Memorial Day, before you sit down to the barbecue, remember those who paid the ultimate price so that we can live in freedom.

Iwo Jima, 1945

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