Sunday, May 30, 2010

misuse of patriotism

This is Memorial Day weekend, a time where we remember and honor the sacrifices of those who served our nation in war and often gave their lives to defend our freedom or the freedom of our allies. It is a time of much flag-waving and feeling proud of our country standing for freedom in the midst of a world that is too often enslaved and enslaving. But not all demonstrations ring true.

Recently our President has been accused as dissing the veterans by not speaking at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day....he is speaking at the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Cemetery near Chicago, his long time home. Somehow the standard for patriotic display on this day has been determined to be speaking at Arlington and nowhere else will do, and no one but the President is good enough (though the Vice President is speaking there in his place).

As many have countered, many times in recent history American Presidents have decided to speak somewhere other than Arlington on Memorial Day. Reagan did that twice, Bush Sr did it all four years of his presidency, and even Bush Jr did it twice (2001 and 2002) . Coincidentally, the only President who spoke at Arlington on every Memorial Day during his presidency (8 times) was President Clinton, who nevertheless was consistently attacked as unfriendly to the military. Such is the hypocrisy of the "flag-wrappers"

But there is another problem with this attack, beyond the historical record. Why do we treat one cemetery as more special than the others? If we truly honor all the veterans ,why is the President speaking at one more important than any other? I do not mean to diminish Arlington. It is a beautiful place and a fitting resting place for veterans. Looking across the sea of gravestones is a solemn occasion (0ne that I have been fortunate to do a few times) and it gives one pause to ponder the reality of war and it's consequences. Visiting the gravesite of President Kennedy and re-reading the words of his inaugural address always brings tears to my eyes.

And it's personal. My uncle is buried at Arlington. He was serving in the military training pilots to fly during World War II when he died in a plane crash. He gave his life for his country, though he never saw combat. I have visited his grave, left roses there, and grieved for the uncle I never got to meet.

But I have also visited, and left roses , on another grave site on the other side of the country, for someone else who faithfully served his country. That was my paternal grandfather. He participated in the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War I. He did see combat and yet survived the war and later retired from the military in the late 1950's. He passed away in 1964 and was buried in Washington National Cemetery just south of Portland Oregon, later joined by my grandmother three years later.

Both of these served their country in the military faithfully and with honor. Both are worthy of remembrance, not just because they are my family, but because they were patriots who answered their nation's call to serve, despite the risk. Both have family who remember them. Why should we differentiate between them just because one was buried at Arlington and the other wasn't?

But that is what people are doing when they attack the President for not speaking at Arlington this weekend and having the "gall" to speak at some "lesser" resting place. Shame on them! This is fax patriotism, using it for political gain. Please remember all who died, no matter where they are buried, no matter the manner or time of their death. They deserve it!

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