May 24, 2013

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

What should we remember on this Memorial Day?

Cynthia DewesRecently we saw the movie, Zero Dark Thirty, a partly fictional account of the apprehension and death of Osama bin Laden. The film is naturally scary and dark, considering its subject. Still …

We’ve all heard about the events depicted in the film—the stealthy preparations, the crashing of one of the assault helicopters, and the chasing through the darkened maze of buildings in bin Laden’s secret compound in Pakistan.

We’ve also been told reluctantly by our government about the torture used beforehand to extract information essential to this operation from captured members of bin Laden’s organization. It seems to me the movie spends too much time on the torture business, but it’s a fact that it happened.

And that’s the problem. On Memorial Day, a celebration of noble events in American history and the patriots who made them possible, it’s jarring to see such a graphic depiction of what I consider a sign of American failures and faults. I thought we were better than that.

So did our Founding Fathers, whose hope was to create a society in which citizens would be free to live as creatures made in the image of God. Therefore, we were to be free of repressive authority from Church and state alike, free from economic or social class prejudices and abuses.

Americans would be free to follow their ideals and to inspire this purpose in others. Thus was born the American dream, the idea that anything is possible in America with hard work and attention to worthy goals. What we have, are or become is dependent upon our own determination and skill, and not some pre-determined fate.

Even though Thomas Jefferson was a deist, not exactly a Christian, and some of the other Founders were more humanist than religious, they made clear in their writings the belief that people are made to succeed. They are intended to be hopeful and forward-looking, as are Christians, Thus, citizens should establish a society dedicated to justice and the common good.

Fine. That is the America we’re proud of, the country that welcomes immigrants who, in turn, enrich our diverse society with new energy and ideas. This is the America of parades, and kids waving little flags and singing patriotic songs. Until postwar World War II, such admiration of our country seemed to be the norm in most of the world.

So what has changed to make threats like 9/11 and Osama bin Laden become household words? Well, for one thing we have become the only super power on Earth, and thus an easy target for the unstable, the paranoid, and the disenfranchised of the world. Envy is a strong motivator.

Still, much of the blame must fall squarely on us, as we can understand when we see things like the use of torture in the bin Laden affair. American policies and actions are what make us popular or not, and deservedly so. It’s true, immigrants still clamor to come into this country. Our standard of living and technological savvy are superior. Yet we are threatened. Why?

It seems to me that we as a society have allowed greed and personal license to control our actions. We’ve forgotten that moral superiority must be our national driving force, and that the end never justifies the means. Never.

If we don’t take responsibility as citizens to demand this, our country will end up as another sad failure in the history of civilization.

On this Memorial Day, let’s forget about the glories of our past and pay attention to the needs of our future.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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