Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Noble Idea

Once upon a time, this remarkable, forward-looking group of folks laid out an idea for a totally different kind of country with an unheard-of style of government. They were certainly not perfect men, and their noble idea has needed tweaking. They planned on that, setting up a government with foundational documents that had built-in means for changing things that needed changing.

"Government of the people..."

A friend from Iraq--that is, a native of Iraq--once told me that nobody in his country had begun to think at the level of those guys with their noble idea. He said that we Americans take voting and our overall form of government so very much for granted. He was right!

"...by the people..."

Think of what happened last Tuesday, leading up to next January. We the people went to the polls and, as a group of self-governing folks, decided who we wanted for our next President. Yesterday, he and the outgoing president met in our President's oval office to talk about policies and transitional things.

"...for the people..."

There were no tanks rolling in the streets. There was no gunfire. There will be none next January when the new guy takes office. Afterward, the old guy will head back to his ranch in the southern part of our country and live...with life-long protection paid for by the new government. This is unheard of in most of the world.

But it was not easily purchased.

"...shall not perish from the earth."

Starting with Lexington & Concord and going on to Valley Forge and forward, men (& later, women) have laid their lives on the line and have paid with their very lives to ensure that the noble idea would survive. A 2nd war with England...a bloody, 4-year war with ourselves...a war with Spain...the first "war to end all wars"...then the 2nd such war...Korea...Vietnam...Kuwait...Afghanistan...Iraq...

War--and its occasional necessity--are clear & present evidence of what the Reformers called the "depravity" of man. War is terrible. A gold star in a window and a flag in a triangle-shaped box and a nice letter from a commander...and a commander-in-chief...are no replacement for the life lost. Wounds, both visible & obvious and invisible & less obvious, last a lifetime.

But sometimes, in this fallen world, war becomes necessary. To protect one's land and people. To defend a helpless neighbor/ally. And to keep the noble idea secure.

In a few hours, it will once again be the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The hour and day on which the shooting stopped in the first world war in 1918. Veterans' Day. This is their day. One could argue that every act of freedom is really their day, but today is their official day. Know a veteran? Tell him or her thanks. Dislike policies of the Bush administration? Find a veteran and thank him/her for securing the noble idea that allows change. Excited about President-elect Obama? Thank a veteran. Talk is cheap, especially mine. But the title of "veteran" is very expensive. Life-threatening at times.

For they are the ones who joined the long line of men (and later, women) who stood in the cold at Valley Forge...who stood against the Brits at Horseshoe Bend...who stared across the fields of Gettysburg and didn't flinch...who fought through the Argonne Forest in France...who island-hopped in the Pacific and assaulted Hitler's Fortress Europe, both against all hope...who stood freezing at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea...who trudged through the Mekong Delta and the central highlands of Vietnam or flew over its skies...who destroyed Saddam's army in the deserts of Kuwait & Iraq...who know the sound of IEDs in Mosul and Kandahar, and the cry of the Taliban warriors in Pakistan. All to secure an idea. That all men are created and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Talk is cheap. Protest is easy. Want to find courage? Go talk to a veteran. Like my brother. Or his wife. Or my new step-Dad, Leo. Or my father-in-law. Or my friends Bob, Lance, Mr. Bob, and others. And I'd ask that you take a moment to remember those no longer with us. Dad. Grandpa Charlie. My forebears who fought in the Civil War. Those who fought in the War of 1812...and those who have paid the ultimate price, laying the most costly sacrifice on the altar of freedom.

Run up to the small country cemetary north of Hattiesburg and see the final resting place of Roy Wheat. Read about him in the post office on 40th. Threw himself on a powerful land mine just prior to its explosion in order to save his buddies in the field there in Vietnam. A friend of mine went to school with Roy. Says he was a shy, quiet, very nice young man. Most heroes are unlikely like that.

Today, thank God for such men and women. Pray for families left behind. Thank God for that which they fought and died for. Say thanks. Remember. And live lives that demonstrate the validity of the idea.

"If you are able, save for them a place inside of you
and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go.
Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always.

Take what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own.
And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind."
Major Michael Davis O'Donnell
1 January 1970Dak To, Vietnam
Listed as KIA February 7, 1978

(note: there are more recent posters, but I really like this one)

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