Category Archives: Essay
Remarks on Memorial Day 2014: Hopedale, MA
Just yesterday I took an early morning walk through this beautiful cemetery. The grounds are perfectly kept; the grass green and trimmed; the leaves on the trees are in full bloom. We can always count upon that.
What struck me in the morning mist was the abundance of American flags that mark the graves of each veteran who is interred here. We may thank the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for that respectful act of kindness each year.
Then I came to this very spot and reviewed the names inscribed on our War Memorial. There are 26 names listed here. They are citizens of Hopedale, Massachusetts, who gave their lives in service to this country during time of war. The list dates back to the Spanish American War. There were several
Hopedale residents who fought with valor in the Civil War.
Our town was settled in 1842 and, ever since, each generation has been touched by war. As I looked at the flags yesterday morning I was taken by the fact that those young Scouts who decorated the gravestones have never known peace in their lifetime. During the course of their short lives Americans have died in conflicts in Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Their parents’ lives have been touched by war deaths in the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Grenada, Panama and Vietnam; and their Grandparents by Korea and the Second World War.
Even in times absent of conflict we are never far from war, the recollections of war and the consequences of war. It is our oral history that connects the generations. The last survivor of the American Revolution died just after the Civil War and the last survivor of the Civil War died just after I was born. We have ceremonies such as this to honor our war dead, to be sure. But in so honoring them we are ensuring that our present and future generations never forget how high a cost our freedom demands.
Plato reminds us that only the dead have seen the last of war. That axiom has stood the test of time for 2500 years. But it does not mean that peace is defined as the absence of war. There are things worth fighting for. And if they are worth fighting for then one must be ready to bear the highest price of all, death.
For the names etched upon these granite tablets I wish I could tell you that each death was meaningful. I cannot attest to that for they were sent into battle by mere mortals. But I can attest that each life was meaningful. We can tell the stories of how they lived and how we loved them; stories of how they touched our lives and those of others; stories of how they left their mark on society, even if only for a short while.
We, of course, honor our war dead this day and it is right that we do so. But just as cemeteries are for the living, ceremonies are for the living, too. We use them to connect with our past and to stay faithful to our traditions. They serve to bind us in a common heritage. Sometimes that heritage is not fully recognized.
For instance, the National Honor Society at Hopedale High School just inducted their newest members this past week. Did you know that the National Honor Society chapter is named in memory of Second Lieutenant Francis Wallace? Francis was the class president and Valedictorian of his high school class in 1937. He lived on Inman Street, graduated with distinction and went on to the US Naval Academy. He entered active duty in the Army Air Corps on December 13, 1941, less than one week after the attack on Pearl Harbor. One year later on New Year’s Eve 1942, he was dead; killed in action when his plane went missing in the South Pacific. Little more is known about the circumstances.
It has been 77 years since Francis Wallace graduated from Hopedale High School. For you many Hopedale High School students in the band or in the audience today, you share a common bond now with one of the names on this tablet. You are fellow alumni.
The dead that we honor here today answered the call of their country because their country asked. Some died in conflict, some died in training; some died alongside a comrade in arms, some died alone. All died in noble service to their country.
To serve this country in uniform is a mighty experience. To serve alongside people of honor and courage is a privilege known by too few of us. This brotherhood was described by William Shakespeare in the now famous St. Crispin’s day speech from Henry V written more than 400 years ago:
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
I will close with a quotation from the great American General George S. Patton:
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
Thank you. And may God bless the souls of our fellow countryman.
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On a Future State:Radio Essay for June 29, 2013
When it comes to Republican politics, it is generally acknowledged that Massachusetts is a little lopsided. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a factor of 3:1. Historically speaking, Republicans have not fared well in elections held in Massachusetts. According to recent analysis, the Republicans sport a worse win-lose record over the last decade than the ‘62 Mets.
True conservatives within the Republican Party fare even worse. There is the occasional Governor, to be sure, but none in recent years have been beacons of conservative thought. The Constitutional Offices of Secretary of State, Auditor and Treasurer have long been in the hands of the Democrats. And, really, there is no such thing as a “conservative Democrat” in Massachusetts. By any national standard, most of our “conservative Republicans” could qualify as card carrying members of the other side in States such as Texas.
Still, whenever a solid Republican candidate is fielded they seem to capture about 43% of the vote. In the recent special election for US Senate, Gabriel Gomez actually received 45%. Was that because of a poor turnout or did the campaign actually reach a few more voters.
Gomez did better in some cities than did Scott Brown last time out. Brown got smoked almost 3:1 in Springfield, for instance; Gomez lost by a factor of 2:1. Progress?
For all of the hype about “The New Republican” Gomez claimed to be; the fact that he beseeched Governor Duval Patrick to be the choice for interim Senator; the fact that he repudiated Republican positions on Gun Control, immigration reform and abortion; and, the fact that Gomez was a first generation American of Columbian parents who did not speak English until 5 years old. The numbers tell us that it may have shaken loose only 2% more votes. Did I mention that he was a Navy SEAL?
The problem was less that Gomez was running on a resume that did not include political experience; many people pine for that. The problem was that he was running without political positions that would distinguish him from the opponent. This was an issueless campaign so why not vote for the guy who you count upon to be a hard core liberal who will deliver on every vote rather than a soft core liberal who might surprise you when predictability counts?
We are in the fifth year of the Great Recession. We have not even recovered the lost jobs from 2008-2009 no less created opportunity at the rate of 125,000 jobs per month necessary to sustain our economy. Our foreign policy is in shambles. The Middle East is on fire and the administration, with the complicity of some Republican Senators, pours fire on the situation by arming rebels who have no love of the United States. Vladimir Putin lectures us on world affairs and outmaneuvers us in the United Nations.
So what do we talk about in The Great Senate Special Election? Toilet bowls, absentee representation, reaching across the aisle to be more catholic than the Pope and arithmetic rather than math. We deserved a better campaign.
The problems with the Gomez campaign belie the fact that the major political parties are in cahoots. They exist to preserve the status quo. Discussing the size of government is like arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. When the music stops, all that matters is that there is a narrative that the players can manipulate to their advantage so as to maintain their seat.
Is being a Member of Congress so satisfying that a person wishes to do it for 30 or 40 years? Or even more? I think that the satisfaction of the role ultimately becomes secondary to the power that it brings, to the egotistical nature of the incumbency. Humans have a preservation instinct and politicians have a highly refined sense of self preservation.
So where does that leave us poor constituents? What are we to do in a world where left and right collude to find a good ‘ol boy (and girl) network of back slapping colleagues who pontificate and bellow but who really don’t stand for anything? Anything except reelection, that is.
We know what the answer is. We have seen this coming for a long time. We have seen it at least since the advent of the Tea Party. Since the beginning of a group of people whose only ambition was to ask the one simple question, “Why?” And one more follow on, “Please explain this to me.” And what we have gotten from our efforts is to be vilified and investigated and instigated and infiltrated and demeaned and demonized.
The Democrats cannot have us and the Republicans will not have us. The time for a third party is upon us now. I fear it may well be too late.
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