American Memorial Day Reflections 2009
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebeneezer saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
1 Samuel 7:12
It was the habit of the ancient descendants of Abraham to set up memorials to recall strategic battlefield victories. America stands in the shadow of their example and follows the same pattern – to recall with gratitude our military victories, the sacrifices of our troops, and the hand of Almighty God in our history.
Memorial Day is a day we set aside as Americans to do just that, honor those who died on the field of battle defending our nation. As an American living abroad I am also reminded of the role that our allies have played and that in many of our wars we fought side-by-side with the soldiers of other nations against our common enemy, and we would do well to honor them today as well.
From the Revolutionary War to present day activities American soldiers and sailors have fought and died for the American ideal of freedom and justice for every man. If we may look through the haze of battles and the blurrier landscape of diplomacy and relations between nations, we will see clearly that America’s soul has remained unsullied, that her goals in warfare have been her own preservation and to put an end to the spread of aggression against other nations and everything else that threatens freedom.
It is a dangerous thing for a nation to take itself too seriously as the military hand of God, for God’s way of changing the world is through grace and the message of love. From the biblical perspective war is always entered into as a last resort, when all other avenues of pursuing peace have been exhausted. Yet it is equally thoughtless for a nation such as America that has over the course of its history followed such a policy of peace to fail to stop and honor its war dead and especially to thank God for His protection. Brave men and women have died fighting for our rights and freedoms.
America’s goals in battle have been to protect her right to exist as a free and independent state, and to protect the American way of life which honors freedom, justice, and the recognition of human dignity. Though within our system a wisely placed separation exists between church and state, our ideals spring from our Judeo-Christian heritage, and not from any other system or religion, making our faith in God an inseparable part of our national heritage and identity.
To be certain, America’s ideals came first from European colonists, our forefathers, whose thoughts were formed from the richness of values of freedom garnished from the Continent and Britain. These were nurtured in the American experience in the cradle of its Christianity and in the independent spirit forged in the American wilderness. Yet America’s contribution of the thoughts and values of freedom given to the world and its nations has been unique, and no other single nation has done what America has done for the world to champion freedom.
As it is unthinkable to envision the spread of human rights and freedom around the world without the contribution of America, it is equally impossible to envision the securing of these ideals and values without its military. The names of our war dead remained cherished in our national history, whether they died on the battlefield or while manning the supply lines – the sacrifice was the same.
Often our war wounded are forgotten by the nation. While in high school in the 1960’s, my school choir presented a Christmas music program to the Veterans Hospital, and I recall the surprise, even during the days of Vietnam, of seeing veterans still in the hospital from World War I whose lungs had been ravaged by poisoned gas attacks.
Today we are involved in wars overseas that, in the eyes of some, lack the clarity of purpose and justification other wars have held. According to recent polls, the majority of Americans now question the wisdom of the military action against Iraq. Let us not, however, question the bravery of the American soldier or the will of the American people. In addition to protecting our own way of life, our goals are to liberate, not subjugate, to promote the ideals of freedom and justice for all, to end aggression against peaceful states, and to promote harmony between nations.
In 1804 a young twenty-something American naval officer from New Jersey, Richard Somers, found himself fighting against the Barbary States in Tripoli off northern Africa. Somers skillful service against the enemy was quickly recognized and he was promoted to command a division of gunboats. Against overwhelming numbers of enemy ships, the decision was made to send the fire ship Intrepid into the harbor as a “floating volcano” to explode and destroy the enemy fleet, and Somers was to be the captain of what was virtually a suicide mission. For reasons unknown, the ship blew up prematurely, killing Somers and the entire crew.
But their sacrifice was not in vain, rather it served to rally the remaining troops and steel their resolve and within a year the American flag was raised in victory, as the Marine Hymn puts it, “on the shores of Tripoli.” Somers body remains buried in Morocco as a testimony to the sacrifice of himself and his men, and six different US Navy ships have been named the USS Somers in his and their honor.
The pay off for America was huge and is actually relevant for our current situation. The Barbary pirates of 1800 were of the same fanatical Muslim mentality we face today, that has no respect for any human beings other than other Muslims. The military action during President Jefferson’s time sent a message that America and Americans were going to defend their people and their national interests, and it put an end, at least temporarily, to the abuses by the fanatics against Americans at sea.
We do not question the right of America to exist, nor the benefit to peace-loving nations of its policies. And with gratitude we remember the sacrifices of our military who have secured our freedom and helped to liberate people around the world.
Above and beyond the sacrifices of our military, we must also bow with gratitude also before a benevolent God who has showered our nation with His protection. May we also on this day seek to recommit ourselves as a nation to the values of freedom, justice, and human dignity that have made our nation great, and that mirror the character of God.
And we look forward to that day in the future, when, as God’s word promises, the nations “shall learn war no more.” May it come quickly.