I received a comment on my recent post “Mr. President … Tear Down These Barrycades” that I thought worthy of rebuttal in an effort to explain some of the motivation of veteran’s reactions to the barricaded memorials.
The commenter’s remark in short accused Republicans of using the demonstrations as a photo-op. My response follows:
Yes indeed, it is about symbolism, and about substance. But not in the manner you infer. It may be difficult for a non-veteran, and a liberal non-veteran as you appear to be, to understand; so let me make an attempt.
Let me begin by pointing out just how rare, and just how special liberty really is, and this is perhaps at the root of why so many veterans feel as we do about our service.
It has been estimated that something on the order of 4% of all people who have ever lived at any time, and in any place in this world have lived in a free society … the remainder have lived under the control of one form of despot or another; whether it be a Pharaoh, King, Queen, Emperor or the dictators of modern times in Nazi Germany, the Communist Soviet Union, China, Cambodia and elsewhere around the world, and throughout history.
Then in 1787 something very new and profound happened. A group of brave American patriots asked the question that perhaps had never been asked before in all of history … can man govern himself? This group of men answered in the affirmative, and created a form of government that was based on the worth and dignity of the individual person; a form of government that declared loudly in its opening words “We the People … ” A form of government that banished the rule of kings, queens and despots from the shores of America.
That form of government has been largely successful since 1787, and a large part of that success has been the sacrifice of the many veterans in the many wars since 1787.
Preserving America as the “shining city on a hill” has enabled many others around the world to share in and expand this 4%, and is at the root of what has made this nation exceptional. Freedom and liberty, and the opportunity to achieve success and a new life is what brought millions to our shores, including my father and my grandparents.
Liberty is what has made America exceptional, not it’s material wealth … not it’s natural resources and beauty … not its great literature … not its great inventions. Liberty and opportunity makes America Exceptional.
I’ve recently talked with and broke bread with four who served in the South pacific battles of World War II; four who stepped foot on a small destroyer in 1943 and spent the next 2 years, 7 months and 4 days at war.
I’ve talked with and broke bread with sailors who supported GIs and marines in Korea … in the dead of winter where temperatures were 38 degrees below zero. I’ve walked those very same decks off the coast of North and South Vietnam in 1966… there were no inside passageways, and I can only imagine the treachery of walking those icy decks off wintery Korea.
I served with sailors during the early years of the Vietnam War, and recently had the privilege with reuniting with some of those men.
I’ve talked with and listened to the stories of the wives left behind as their men went off to war … not knowing when or even if their husbands would return.
I recently met and talked with a lady at our local YMCA. Janice lost her older brother to Vietnam and years later was instrumental in building a monument to those from our local area who lost their lives in Vietnam. She knows and shared with me how much a war memorial can mean, even to those who did not go to war.
So yes, memorials can be and are very personal to many people. A picture I did not post was one of a young man with two artificial legs helping to carry a barricade to the White House.
And there was Sarah Palin speaking on behalf of those tearing down the barricades. Yes she is a political personage, but don’t forget that as Governor of Alaska she was Commander in Chief of the National Guard units of her state … responsible for deployment of those units in time of state or national need … and is the mother of a young man who volunteered to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
What happened on the National Mall was filled with substance … filled with symbolism. Substance and symbolism that I can take great pride in.
I hope this helps in your understanding of what happened at our national capital this past weekend … I only wish I could have been part of it.
Don Johnson – October 2013