• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Memorial Day, 2012

… that these dead shall not have died in vain.
Abraham Lincoln

As a young boy in Oil City, Pennsylvania, I marched in our annual Memorial Day parade with my Cub Scout troop. It was a different time in America, a different place. The Second World War had ended, we had defeated the Nazis, saving the free world in the process. But then the Cold War started, putting freedom again at risk, this time under a thermonuclear cloud.

It was here that I was taught the meaning of America, early in the Cold War in this small town in the Alleghany Mountains. It was here I was taught that we are all created equal, endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was here that I learned that we the people brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. It was here that I learned that freedom carried with it responsibility, the responsibility to do my best to live up to these ideals.

These were the principles that made us different from the Soviet Union. These were the principles for which men and women gave their last full measure of devotion. These were the principles for which we honored our fallen heroes on Memorial Day.

This was a time in America that —as seen through the eyes of an idealistic boy — America seemed to be one people: E Pluribus Unum, from many, one. With a clear and present enemy on the outside, it was easy to fail to see the fissures on America’s inside. It was still the 1950s. The 1960s were not yet in sight.

By end of the 1960s America had changed dramatically.  The fissures were plainly visible. During Memorial Days in the 1960s while some of us mourned the deaths of our soldiers — 50,000 of whom would die in a war that was tearing apart America’s soul — others mourned the deaths of Medgar Evers and Malcom X, of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, of Bobby and Martin. On Memorial Day, 1970 while some mourned the fallen warrior, others grieved for the students at Kent State, murdered by National Guardsman, our own countrymen, as they were protesting the war in Vietnam.

That was 1970. It is now 2012, more than forty years later. The fissures appear wider than ever, the anger and hostility greater than any time since perhaps those first Memorial Days during and after the Civil War, a time when brother fought against brother, when America resolved that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The challenge is to disagree without being disagreeable
Rick Warren, Pastor
Saddleback Church

Who were these men and women who gave their last full measure of devotion so we could be free? Who were their families? Where were they from? What did they believe?

The Memorial Day images we typically experience are of families at a graveside—mothers & fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters—or of an official ceremony led by a political or military dignitary. They are images of connection, how the dead are like us.

But not all the dead are like us. Some are very different from us. To these, we are also connected. This Memorial Day, at a time when Americans seem deeply disconnected from each other, this Memorial Day, let’s reflect on the connections we have with those who are not like us.

With more than 1,200,000 dead in America’s wars, I am certain that at least one of those who died for me is everything I am not.

Somebody who believes as deeply as I do about gay marriage — but from a different moral perspective — died so that I might be free to respectfully disagree with him, with his family, with his church and with his community.

Tens of thousands of evangelical Christians have given their last full measure of devotion so I could live in a country where I am free to be a secular Jew, just as many many atheists gave their last full measure of devotion so that millions of evangelical Christians could be free to worship in accordance with their beliefs.

Among the soldiers we remember on Memorial Day are men who believed in their moral right to own slaves. Many of the founders owned slaves, yet it was their sacrifice that brought the light of freedom to a dark world. Slave owners died so that I might be free to give meaning to all men are created equal in ways that they could never have comprehended.

Men and Women… Republicans … Democrats … Right-Wing Conservatives … Left-Wing Liberals … Socialists … Communists … Capitalists … Europeans … Asians … Native Americans … Hispanics … Africans … Whites … Blacks … Yellows … Reds … Christians … Jews … Buddhists … Moslems … Catholics … Born-Agains and Atheists … Straights … Gays … Lesbians … Transgenders.

All have died so all could be free.

When we reflect on those men and women completely different from us who gave their last full measure of devotion so that you and I might be free, we find men and women with different politics, different colors, different ethnicities, different religions, different values.

The American tapestry is woven deep. We are connected with each other through our years of common struggle to make more real America’s promise of freedom and liberty, each in our own way, each according to our own values … but together, E Pluribus Unum.

Even as we the peoplefind ourselves on different cultural sides of a battle that has its origins in the country’s founding, we share something profoundly deep: each and every one of us is free because an American with totally different attitudes, beliefs and values died to keep us free.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.
Abraham Lincoln

Do we not owe a debt to the families, the loved ones, the communities of those who died so that we might live free? Is it not their sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers and neighbors who lie in their soldier graves alongside our own? Do they not have the same inalienable right to live free—to pursue their own happiness— as we do? Aren’t they too part of the we in we the people?

Do we not, therefore, have a solemn duty to treat those with whom we most seriously disagree with the same respect as we would want them to treat us? Isn’t this the least we must do if we are to honor the memory of those like them who sacrificed so we could live free? And won’t this take us again — as it has throughout our history — to the very wellspring of what is exceptional in America, to the proposition that we are all created equal.

… that these dead shall not have died in vain.
Abraham Lincoln

Let Freedom Ring.

Copyright © 2012. Stan Stahl. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay in its entirety provided its source is identified asThe Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.

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