by Peter Bearse
Indeed, these are times that try men’s souls. We write here to honor those who fought for us in past wars as a particularly brutal battle goes on in a strange foreign place, a battle whose images sear our souls. First, let us be clear: Those buried in cemetaries around us did indeed fight for US, that we could live the lives we live today in the freedom and dignity enabled by a democratic republic. They fought for life against those who would dictate an ideology to others, not for an ideology that we would dictate to others. Thus, we recognize every year, as Abraham Lincoln recognized at Gettysburg, that these honored dead did not die in vain; they died so that the only nation on earth so conceived -- to provide a government of the people, by the people and for the people -- would not perish from the earth. The question remains; indeed, it should haunt us, year after year: What are we doing to ensure that they did not die in vain? What are we doing to ensure that our great democratic Republic will live on?
Some World War II veterans, octogenarians who are passing away at the rate of over 1,000 per day, will be gathering in Washington, D.C. to celebrate this day around the WWII memorial. Tom Brokaw called them “The Greatest Generation.” Indeed they were, in more ways than we recognize. For they were not only victorious warriors for liberty; as a generation, they were practically the last great practitioners of the kind of community-based, person-to-person politics that sustained our democratic republic peacefully and made our country great. With the help of the GI Bill, they built homes, families and communities. Having fought so hard for it, they realized that citizenship in a democracy is nothing to be taken for granted, that it is far more of a responsibility than it is a right. So they voted, faithfully, realizing voting as an obligation, not just an opportunity to take off from work.
More than this, many of them were involved in political clubs, campaigns and committees. They understood that democratic politics is not a spectator sport. The politics of the greatest generation has been nearly lost to us. Our republic has been living off and rapidly depreciating the political capital bequeathed to us by the greatest generation. The increasing absence of people from politics inspired one of the generation, a famous science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, to write a book entitled: TAKE BACK YOUR GOVERNMENT. Now, more than 12 years later, can we also remember the greatest generation for their citizenship, via sacrifices of time during peacetime, as well as for their sacrifices in wartime on behalf of our democratic way of life?
So, on this Memorial Day, let us measure our lives in light of the living memory of those who fought in past wars, who learned that war is hell but who continued to carry the torch for liberty and life though every ring of that hell so that we could be living here today, wondering how, in peace and freedom, we can best advance the Republic for which they gave their last full measure of devotion. What fractions of the time of our lives are WE willing to sacrifice to practice Democracy in America, rather than just reading inspiring words of how others gave their whole lives so that we could do so?
PETER BEARSE, Fremont, NH, 5/25/07