Monday, May 27, 2013

Neither pity nor compassion, but resolve

Walter Russel Mead on Memorial Day, 2013:
The famous poem by the Canadian John McCrae commemorates the dead from the terrible trench warfare battles of World War One, but it is worth remembering today, as Americans...are putting their lives on the line in another country where poppies bloom.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
What makes this poem so memorable, I think, is that it doesn’t just see the soldiers as victims. Their lives are more than a tragic waste; we have not done our duty by them if we simply bewail their deaths and move on.

These soldiers were there for a reason; like the Americans who fought for the Union in our Civil War, they were fighting for a cause that was bigger than they were, that was worthy of the sacrifice they made. Those who die for freedom, or to protect their homes and families from invaders and aggression cannot be pitied and dismissed as victims. They must be honored and respected as warriors, as men whose service ennobled them and calls forth an answering sense of dedication among the living. ....

Pity and compassion can be noble emotions, but wallowing in these feelings is not what Memorial Day should be about. Our duty to the fallen is not just one of remembrance, or of caring for the wounded or those the warriors left behind. We also owe a debt of emulation: to continue to fight and if necessary to die for the great causes of our time. To fight an ideology of hatred that masks itself as religion is a noble and a generous thing to do; those who give their lives in the fight against this great evil are not victims. They are heroes, and they deserve to be remembered as such. .... [more]