What follows is the text of a speech delivered by a friend at the Agawam National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2012, just months before a momentous and important national election. It’s a powerful reminder that citizen soldiers who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice shouldn’t just be remembered.
Like many before me, I have the task here today of honoring the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our country. The difficulty of this task was recognized very long ago, more than 2400 years ago in fact. It was Pericles who worried out loud in front of crowd not unlike this one about the “virtues of [so] many” being entrusted to the public remarks of one man, which as anybody whose heard a lot of public speeches knows, aren’t always worthy of enshrinement in books of great speeches.
I definitely share the deep sense of humility and even fear of inadequacy expressed so long ago by this great Greek General and Statesman.
Pericles said something else in his speech at the funeral of Athenian soldiers killed in the Peloponnesian War that I believe as ardently as I think he did. He said -and I’m paraphrasing a bit here- Men who have proved their virtue in action- by action- should be honored for it. Sober and respectful remembrances are actions of a sort, though I’m quite sure Pericles had more in mind. ...I know I do.
We live in a world where things move very fast; where the trials and tribulations of daily life can easily overwhelm us; sap us of the energy which is truly required for honorable action. The men and women, many interned here all around us, removed themselves from their daily lives willingly, if not voluntarily, to undertake honorable action… on our behalf… with the full knowledge that such action may well get them killed.
What could we possibly do to be worthy of their sacrifice? I have a very modest suggestion…As we experience…endure… that which precedes war…namely politics… over the next six months or so, I would ask every man and women here today to do their duty to our democracy with great care. Devote more time… and more critical attention… to the debates and arguments that will animate the 2012 elections in our great Republic. Actively resist the cheapening of the principles for which our fallen brothers and sisters gave their lives.
When politicians use the cadence of war and invoke America’s creedal principles to elevate themselves and their partisan interests to nobler heights in the minds of voters … actively resist, reject, and condemn these. Remind everyone in ear shot of who truly deserves to be associated with great moments of existential risk. Remind anybody you can that politics IS NOT WAR! Anyone who would elevate it to this station should be reproached.
The defenders of our creedal principles, listed in the Declaration of Independence, lie in places like this one all over the world. Do your part this election season to give these warriors, these genuine defenders of America, her flag, and her values, peaceful repose. Let only clear truth and honorable action, not mere words or images, move your heart, and motivate you in the performance of your duty as a citizen of the United States of America.
God bless our fallen heroes...and help the rest of us to be attentive and resolute in the stewardship of that for which they gave their lives.
Happy Memorial Day everybody.