FOR VETERANS’ DAY
On this day set aside to honor our nation’s veterans I naturally find myself thinking of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In that brief eulogy President Lincoln left the simplest and best statement of the proper way for people to honor those who have given their lives, or some portion thereof, to provide for the common defense of their nation. Lincoln understood that honoring them with our lips is not enough.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us— that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion— that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—and that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom,…
Sturdy and unadorned Lincoln’s words evoke the spirit of sacred honor, also called upon by America’s Founders. Thus sincerely evoked, that spirit rouses a barely expressible commingling of painful loss and prideful satisfaction that can only resolve itself by action. By thus invoking the passionate good will of his compatriots, Lincoln moves from speech to action, prefiguring in words the devotion he prescribes to them. He draws the power to do so not only from the eloquence of his words, but from the righteousness of the nation’s common cause, approved by the anguish, courage and blood with which those “brave men, living and dead” transformed the field of battle from Hell to hallowed ground.
As Lincoln says in his address, the nation’s common cause is Liberty, understood from the moment of its conception to be “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”; and known, in its first deliberate effect, as the reason for “government of the people, by the people, for the people…”
For generations Americans have honorably served, honorably battled, honorably risked and given their lives for the sake of that cause. How best to honor them; except by making sure that, in every generation, we renew, in understanding, will and action, our appreciation of the righteousness of the cause which all those generations of its guardians approved with the testimony of their service?
Where is the fault in the logic of Lincoln’s eulogy? In our day, I fear, we Americans will discover it, in ourselves. Mesmerized by the convenient technologies made possible by our empirical science, we have been thoughtlessly surrendering the essential premises of our liberty. We have fallen prey to self-serving demagogues, disparaging those premises on falsely “scientific” grounds.
They deny creation. They deny the intelligence and goodwill of the Creator. They therefore deny God’s truth, as the transcendent standard of justice in human affairs. Withal, they deny the only rational basis for the assertion of human equality on which the justice, rights and self-government of the people depend.
Because we are being induced to abandon the reason on which our conception of liberty depends, its blessings are being stripped from us; our institutions of faith and family are being systematically undermined and dismantled; and the age old succession of tyrannies is being restored as the inevitable fate of humankind. Thus it more and more appears as if this generation will be the first to refuse Lincoln’s challenge by failing to resolve that our veterans, living and dead, shall not have served in vain.