During World War II, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal (who would later serve at the first Secretary of Defense) was obliged to review the regular reports of casualties from the Pacific Theater where the Marines were locked in deadly embrace with the fanatical enemy. He was on hand to witness the terrible battle for Iwo Jima. He was awed by the sublime courage of the Marines who struggled so valiantly and gave their lives by the thousands. He later said he could not pass a Marine on the streets of Washington without a feeling of reverence.
On this Memorial Day, we pause from our routine labors to honor the brave men and women who have paid such a terrible price – and continue to pay that price – for our freedoms. In a just world freedom would be a natural right enjoyed by everyone, but we do not live in a just world; we live in this one. During World War II when the Marine Corps and Army were putting their lives on the line all over the world, we were up against evil forces that made no secret of their disdain for democratic values. The Germans and Japanese were ready, willing and able to lay down their lives for autocratic government. To preserve our way of life, Americans had to accept their challenge and hundreds of thousands of the previous generation had to lay down their lives to make certain the forces of evil did not prevail.
Any reasonable person reading that history must surely breathe a deep sigh of relief that the so-called “greatest generation” rose to the challenge. They weathered the brutal hardship of The Great Depression only to step into the vast madness of World War II, and they did not flinch. They were tough and they were wise. When the great battle was over, they stepped up to create a new international order that would nourish democratic values.
The really discouraging news is that the forces of repressive government are still very much with us. Indeed, it is fair to say that much of the evil arrayed against us today does not even rise to the level of evil espoused by the Germans and Japanese of World War II who at least claimed to defend civilization. The nihilistic killers of Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban are openly committed to the eradication of modern civilization. They want to take the world back to some more primitive age scarcely removed from cave man society. Thousands of them are willing to lay down their lives for this benighted vision of a new dark age.
Against this dark wave of terror, we stand behind a thin line of heroes in uniform – Army soldiers, Marines, Air Force, Navy – and some not in uniform in the clandestine services. When they pause from the struggle, they must find it discouraging to read about dissension on the home front – of citizens of a democracy who have forgotten how to compromise and lost respect for the opinions of others. It is surely hard enough to put your life on the line for a viable form of government that has inspired free people down through the ages. It must be infinitely more difficult to fight for a seemingly endless squabble about petty differences of opinion, exacerbated by extremist news organizations that make no pretense of impartiality.
Against that shameful backdrop, this sacred day offers us all an opportunity to reflect on what is going on in this country and our own acquiescence to it. The brave, mostly young, men and women carrying the battle have a better sense than we do about the true cost of freedom and the sacrifices it demands. If they could speak with one voice, they would say to the American people – knock it off! We are in a life and death struggle for our most vital values and our way of life, and there is no guarantee we will prevail. Indeed, if we cannot get back to our basic values of comity and respect for dissent, we will not prevail, and do not deserve to prevail.
Today let us honor those brave patriots on the islands of the Pacific and the steep German winter, and pause to reflect upon what they were fighting for. We owe them that. Let us remember what they were fighting for, and what we are fighting for.
David W. Walker, President and CEO
Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes