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Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Memorial Day is about remembering our better nature

Memorial Day

The terribleness and grandeur of young people going off in waves to fight is the stuff myths are made of. No wonder the rhetoric of war is timeless and nonspecific. No wonder each war seems to blend into the ones before and the ones after.

Today's speech may have been President Bush's best Memorial Day speech yet. He remembered that the day was not about a particular political agenda but about something bigger.

The names of these honored are known only to the Creator who delivered them home from the anguish of war -- but their valor is known to us all. It's the same valor that endured the stinging cold of Valley Forge. It is the same valor that planted the proud colors of a great nation on a mountaintop on Iwo Jima. It is the same valor that charged fearlessly through the assault of enemy fire from the mountains of Afghanistan to the deserts of Iraq. It is the valor that has defined the armed forces of the United States of America throughout our history.

Some of us remember that engagement in the war in Iraq bears no resemblance to the American Revolution or World War II. But we'll let that pass as we honor those who live and die with valor--or without it. It's only at a remove that we see the glory in death. Some of us don't see it even then.

On this Memorial Day, I stand before you as the Commander-in-Chief and try to tell you how proud I am at the sacrifice and service of the men and women who wear our uniform. They're an awesome bunch of people and the United States is blessed to have such citizens.

At this point, there was a standing ovation. One women even rose to shout "Whoo-hoo," so inspired was she by this stirring speech, according to the Orange County Register.

It's easy to get people going these days. One hundred and fourteen years ago, it took more. Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr. took seven pages of speechifying to inspire people:

But, nevertheless, the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us. But, above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart.

(Note the source of the title of the Mariane Pearl book/Angelina Jolie movie A Mighty Heart.)

I ask no apology of you who think it's unfair to point out the President's communication limitations. If you're the Leader of the Free World and Commander in Chief, you ought to be able to stick with the speech writer's art and rise above "awesome bunch." You might want to point out that life should be a spirited and passionate activity for all of us, not only the soldiers among us.

After the speech, Bush met with important advisors from a recent trip to the Middle East: five NCAA head football coaches. Tommy Tuberville, Auburn University, had met a soldier  who'd lost part of his leg to a roadside bomb.

"I have kids their age and I'd like my kids to meet some of those people. Every one of them look you in the eye, shake your hand, tell them about their mission, what they're doing. ... Our college kids lead a pretty nice life and those kids are over there serving our country and just doing a great job," the Register reported.

Awesome, coach!

I wonder what Tuberville's kids would make of  Holmes' second famous Memorial Day speech in 1895:

In this snug, over-safe corner of the world we need (the message of living life for a purpose), that we may realize that our comfortable routine is no eternal necessity of things, but merely a little space of calm in the midst of the tempstuous untamed streaming of the world, and in order that we may be ready for danger. We need it in this time of individualist negations. . . revolting at discipline, loving fleshpots, and denying that anything is worthy of reverence--in order that we may remember all that buffoons forget. We need it everywhere and at all times. For high and dangerous action teaches us to believe as right beyond dispute things for which our doubting minds are slow to find words of proof. Out of heroism grows faith in the worth of heroism. The proof comes later, and even may never come.

Soldiers understand that. So should we all.

And not only for going to war. 



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