Last month, my wife, two oldest children, and I had the opportunity to visit Arlington National Cemetery during a trip to Washington D.C. The morning we arrived, an early rainstorm receded and cleared the way for the spring sunshine and cherry blossoms. Though the tourists — one French speaking woman in particular — were too loud for such a sacred spot, I was still humbled by the miles and miles of white crosses and headstones covering the gentle sacred hills of Arlington.
I was compelled to realize that underneath every white marker lies a hero. And a story. And scores of broken hearts. For those who died in combat, I thought of the spouses and siblings, the parents and friends, the immense cumulative heartache felt by millions of individuals over the generations in the wake of their incalculable sacrifice. Such thoughts flooded my soul with a painful gratitude that forced me to wonder if I’m worthy of their sacrifice. Many of the dead in Arlington had given the ultimate measure for people they didn’t even know and would never meet. I felt grateful for the fallen, but also their families who had grieved more deeply than most of us will ever know and can ever imagine.
Then, unexpectedly, came the anger. I didn’t want to feel it. I felt ashamed for allowing it to pollute my experience there. I was angry that the precious gift for all Americans bought at such a great price is being eroded, sold, corrupted, compromised, and co-opted. Stolen. And yet so many stand at the sidelines spectating with insufficient urgency the fire sale of so much: our freedom, our way of life, America’s respected and dominant position in the world — the generational endowments that can be bought only with blood and pain and death and tears.
So many heroes died, yet we hand the keys of governance to the worst among us. We have given precious political power — originally intended to ensure maximum individual freedom — to those who regulate our communications, monitor our activities, police our motivations, elevate equality above liberty, redistribute our treasure, incentivise dependency, punish achievement, view the guilty with compassion and the innocent with suspicion, show deference to the lawless and skepticism toward the rule keepers, and force commerce against conscience. Every freedom we have, they will take. They will take it all.
How did we let this happen?
How did we become the spoiled children of hard working parents, not appreciating the price of all that we enjoy? I’m not so proud of the fact that I can’t separate my anger from my gratitude. So much is slipping away so quickly. I’m frustrated that I can’t speak loudly enough and warn enough, and slice through the din of politically correct doctrine that is both drivel and destructive.
I so very badly want to wake up every last American, put them all on a gargantuan bus and drive through Arlington, making them look at every last white cross, headstone, and mausoleum and consider the pain that each one represents. The pain and the misery and the loss. And then ask them how important freedom is and if they want to be regulated, monitored, policed, punished, and mandated.
Because all of those sacred markers stand day and night in Arlington so that wouldn’t happen, yet happening it is.
We can’t ever forget, because if we forget, we become untethered to the institutional memory that makes up our civic DNA. The American Soldier is the personification of what keeps us free, the guardian of our sacred uniqueness as Americans. As long as we remember, we will have no question that we, indeed, are still the greatest nation that ever existed in all of human history, unashamed of the hegemony that has freed so many, home and abroad.
Neal Larson of Idaho Falls is a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 590am and 92.1fm, and also at www.590kid.com. “The Neal Larson Show” can be heard weekday mornings from 8:00 to 10:00. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.