Posts Tagged ‘Honoring and Remembering’

In the closing scene from Saving Private Ryan the aged Ryan, surrounded by his wife, children and grandchildren, visits the military grave of the one who came to save him but lost his own life in doing so. He stands in front of the stone and thanks him again, asking himself the hard question: Did I live a life worthy of that sacrifice?

It is a hard question for all of us. And it gets to the heart of what we do on Memorial Day.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with having a patriotic festival and re-energizing the national tribe. Healthy national pride is a good thing. But that cannot be a substitute for the more substantial question, the kind of question such as Ryan asked in front of that stone. It means asking harder questions beyond public rhetoric.

For example, how are we actually caring for veterans – not in the abstract, not in public displays, but in actual services provided to them? Are we willing to fill the available job with a veteran? Are they welcomed back into our communities? Does the VA deliver services when needed in a timely way?

One of the heartening outcomes of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been the identification of vast fraud committed by lenders against veterans. As a result millions of dollars have been returned by those abusing institutions. That fraud would never have been identified and prosecuted were it not for an agency charged to do only that. Citizens – in this case veteran citizens – were actively protected. As of late the standards for those lenders, the regulations, are being shelved and scaled back. The winners are predatory lenders. The losers are mortgage borrowers, just like those veterans.

Do I live a life worthy of that sacrifice? Is it a moral life? Does it overturn injustice? Do I advocate for those who have no voice?

More to the point, do I live a life that safeguards the very particular freedoms for which many died? That means honoring the Constitution and the rule of law. And the Constitution includes 33 Amendments added since 1789. Do I safeguard those Amendments?

I remember standing by a combat veteran at an event in which someone protested by not participating in some patriotic ritual. And he said, “I fought for the freedom of that guy to have free speech. I may agree or disagree with him but that is beside the point. I fought for our democracy and the principles of our Constitution. I fought for that guy.”

On this Memorial Day we will have patriotic social ritual. There may be some speeches. But the question of Private Ryan is still the one that matters. Am I living a life that will honor the sacrifice? Am I defending the democracy that gave rise to it? Democracies are fragile things. They take decades, even centuries to build but can be jeopardized in a relatively short span of time. Ours is resilient. But it is not unbreakable.

How will I honor the sacrifices?

Let us begin by reviewing our evolving Constitution and its Amendments.