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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Memorial Day:Remembering that the Fight for America Occurs Beyond the Battlefield

Until recently, Memorial Day has been an excruciatingly painful day: reminding me more of my weaknesses than my strengths, my debts more than my credits, my regrets more than my hopes. All these conflicting thoughts and emotions would surface at a ceremony my family and I annually attended every May 30th, when veterans were honored at Pierce Cemetery in Westlake Village, CA.

As retired soldiers would be acknowledged for their service to America—especially the WWII vets, frail in body but still stout in spirit—I would endlessly fight back tears. Clearly, something in the Memorial Day experience was tearing me up inside, without my fully understanding why.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Because in order for you to understand my emotional reaction at those Memorial Day ceremonies, you need to know what prompted me to go there in the first place.

Prior to my having moved to Idaho in 1998, I lived in California for sixteen years. One of the great joys of living there was my listening to radio talk show host Dennis Prager, and benefiting from his great insights on life. Dennis would have a special program on Memorial Day, where he would discuss the original purpose of this holiday and how it dovetailed with his view of America’s unique role in the world. He encouraged his listeners to do more than just barbecue and nap the day away. Eventually, I decided to take his advice, without realizing the emotional can of worms I was opening inside my soul.

As I sat through each annual Memorial Day service—with baseball cap and sunglasses shielding my tear-soaked face—I would endless beat myself up. Why didn’t I serve my country? Why was I glad during college to be “saved” by that deferment, and then by a high enough lottery number? Who was drafted in my place? Why hadn’t I, at least, enlisted in the Reserves? What have I ever done as a sacrifice to the betterment of my country?

After one particular episode in self-flagellation, I came back to my house and turned on Prager’s radio program. He was asking listeners to share their Memorial Day experiences. I decided to call in and share mine.

As I recounted for Dennis my emotional reaction to the Memorial Day service, I summed it up by saying that I felt like a freeloader. I had partaken of the blessings of life in America, but had contributed little.

Dennis listened quite compassionately, and then shared with me the following story: He recalled a conversation with his father, not unlike the one he was now having with me. His dad, in reminiscing about his own WWII exploits, made Dennis envious. “I’ll never have the chance to fight for my country the way you did, Dad!,” Dennis responded. “Yes you will,” his father replied, “but it won’t necessarily be with a rifle and bullets. Maybe it’ll be with your intellect, your pen, or your mouth. There are many ways to fight for America, and you’ll just have to wait patiently until the right opportunity presents itself.”

Prager went on to say that when he became a talk radio host, he instinctively knew that that was his opportunity to fight for America. Likewise, there would come a time when Allen would have his opportunity.

Dennis Prager was right. Shortly after that last Memorial Day in California, I moved to Idaho and found myself drawn to public policy battles. Without having displayed much previous interest in politics, I began writing letters to the editor, op-eds, speaking at rallies, organizing groups, and generally taking high profile positions on controversial issues that most folks wouldn’t touch with a ten foot kosher salami.

In essence, without intending to, I became a culture warrior—a member of the Jewish conservative brigade. I count men like Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, David Horowitz, and Rabbi Daniel Lapin as my comrades, willing to fight tenaciously for the continuation of the American experiment in limited government, free enterprise, a moral public culture, and a strong military.

Yesterday, I attended the first Memorial Day service at the newly constructed Idaho Veterans Cemetery. This time there were no tears on my part, no knots in my stomach, no “freeloader” feelings. While I have no delusions that my contributions rival those of veterans who have lost life or limb, I know that I will have a good answer for my grandkids (yet to be born) if they ask me the following question: “Grandpa, when America was engaged in her second civil war—the culture war—were you part of that fight?”

Allen Gorin


At 7:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for articulating heartfelt thoughts and sentiments that I am sure many more Americans experience, particularly on Memorial Day. As you painted your picture of a grateful but guilt ridden American giving thanks, I saw much of myself in you with very similar feelings. Funny how this can happen with someone whom you never met and had many different life experiences. Yet as we explore more deeply there are experiences more similar than we first realize.

I also thank you for helping me come to grips with my own feelings and now being a bit more able to channel and energize my efforts towards supporting the "American experiment" .

Skip March

At 12:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what is "a moral public culture" and how is it attained? particularly given the notion of limited government and the ethos of free enterprise?

or is that where a strong military really kicks in on the domestic front?

just wondering.

At 12:09 PM, Anonymous Allen Gorin said...


That's a good question, and I would have been somewhat disappointed if you hadn't pressed me for a clarification.

I think there is a profound difference between acceptable public and private behavior, when viewed from a moral perspective. Examples:

1) Swearing in public is almost never appropriate, especially when done by a role model, whereas a privately uttered four-letter word, especially among friends, can have a catharctic effect and animate the conversation without corrupting publicly accepted standards. What is accepted publicly tends to become the new norm--Daniel Patrick Moynihan's quip about defining deviancy down coming to mind;

2) Graphic sexual displays thrust onto the public--billboards, primetime TV, and the like-- are also, in my opinion, contrary to the best interests of the culture. Again, they define sexual standards down, cheapen sex, facilitate men viewing women simply as sex objects, and send terribly confusing messages to kids (while we're promoting abstinence education in schools). On the other hand, channeling the sex drive through private venues--especially within marriage--is often a healthy behavior, and at the very least, certainly one much less harmful to the public culture;

3) Hyphenated Americanism--aka multiculturalism--is a wonderful thing in the private sphere, but a terrible development in the public culture. It's great for folks to privately celebrate their own respective cultures, but not at the expense of abandoning the overarching, "melting-pot" American culture. The "salad bowl" metaphor for America's public culture is, at bottom, highly immoral, in that it tears at the glue holding Americans together and will eventually lead to the destruction of our country.

Bill, while some of these issues--the pubic culture vs. private behavior being the unifying theme--may require government involvement from time to time, quite often they can and should be addressed through society's expression of displeasure (stigma). I fully acknowledge that these issues create a tension between my conservative and libertarian instincts, and concede that good people can disagree as to where lines should be drawn.

Hope this helps,


At 3:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Allen--Thanks for your amplification/clarification. As you appreciate, of course, such raises even more questions. However, you have set the proper tone for the debate (partly by simply acknowledging that there is something to debate and by not advocating some sort of cultural hegemony), and assuaged at least some of my immediate concerns. You may suffer a tension between your conservative and libertarian instincts. What about my problem--I have conservative, liberal, and libertarian instincts. Throw in another Tanker's libertine inclinations and we might have a real freeforall going in due course. Thanks for taking the time. To be continued!!! Bill

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