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A Memorial Day Thought  

A Memorial Day Thought

Abraham Lincoln had no chance to prepare for war. He took the Oath of Office on March 4, 1861. In his Inaugural Address, the new president appealed for peace. He ended with this eloquent paean to patriotism.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

That same day, Gen. Winfield Scott gave him a message from the besieged Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. Capt. Robert Anderson informed his Washington superiors that he could not hold out against the rebels much longer. Lincoln was unprepared for the artillery barrage that opened up on Fort Sumter on April 12th, but he said, "we have the war upon us."

When the Great War broke out in Europe one hundred years ago this July, the United States was not involved. President Woodrow Wilson urged Americans to remain neutral in thought as well as deed. He would say: "there is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight." He kept the United States out of the European war for almost three years. In that time, he might have prepared this country in case we found ourselves drawn in despite our prayers. He chose not to do so.

Wilson's Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, actually took pride in the fact that we were unprepared when war finally came in 1917. "I delight in the fact that when we entered this war were not, like our adversary [Germany], prepared for it and inviting it. Accustomed to peace, we were not ready."

Such statements seem ridiculous to us today, or should. But they are not much different than hearing our current Secretary of Defense say we cannot afford the defense we may need. So, in the face of mounting threats abroad, he is forcefully advocating deeper cuts in our defense budget. At least he is doing something forcefully.

It is not that this administration is wholly unprepared for conflict. They are conducting a vigorous kulturkampf(culture clash) against believers within our all-volunteer services. They seem to think that if they cannot make our adversaries fear us, at least they can put the fear of God into the godly.

The poignant story of the painting Gassed, by John Singer Sargent needs to be studied and reflected upon. Sargent was one of the most famous American artists of his day. Ordinarily, his subjects were grand ladies of society or stately wielders of power.

In this powerful painting, however, we see our World War I Doughboys stepping high together, each wounded man with his hand on his brother's shoulder. They have been hit by a cruel and barbarous new weapon, first deployed by the Germans -- chlorine gas. Some will regain their sight, but others will be blinded for life.

This Singer painting is a haunting memorial. It might also be called "The Blind leading the Blinded." That is because the civilian leadership of our country at that time was blind to the need for preparedness. They forgot the old Roman maxim: If you seek peace, prepare for war. The wars of America have filled hundreds of thousands of patriot graves. This month marks the 150th anniversary of the terrible Civil War battlefield known as "The Wilderness." It was during this long and bloody 1864 battle that Gen. Grant ordered repeated charges at Cold Harbor, in his drive on the Confederate capital of Richmond. The night before that assault, Union boys were seen quietly sewing bits of cloth with their names and hometowns on their blue uniform jackets. They knew what their fate would be on the morrow.

That sacrifice continues. Each week, we receive reports of brave young Americans laying down their lives for us and for our freedoms. They are not really dying for Kabul or Kandahar, in Afghanistan, but for Kansas and the Kanawha Valley here. Each of these young heroes has taken to heart the message engraved on the great bronze doors of the Naval Academy Chapel: "Not for self but for country."

This weekend would be a good time to pause and look at the "Faces of the Fallen" and to pray solace for their loved ones. It is always good to honor the dead by lifting up the living. In World War II, one in every eleven Americans was in uniform. Today, only one in two hundred serves us and this land we love. Our all-volunteer military needs our sincere support.

We can resolve to intercede for the members of our U.S. Armed Services. We should pray for them and speak up for them, especially for their endangered religious freedoms. They defend us. Only we can defend them.

By Robert Morrison, FRC's Senior Fellow for Policy Studies