Memorial Day - Memories of Heroes and our Challenges Today
It was not until several years after the Civil War that memorial or decoration services began to be held on a regular basis, honoring those who died on both sides of the War between the States. In 1971, Congress declared the last Monday in May to be set aside as Memorial Day, a day in which we remember those who fought and gave their lives in all past wars.
It is interesting, however, that perhaps the greatest memorial speech ever given, the Gettysburg Address, was delivered before the Civil War was even concluded. President Abraham Lincoln's short address showed his concern not only for the memory of the fallen heroes, but his greater concern for the challenge ahead for those still living.
"The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here..."
No matter what the political reasons or ramifications of war might be, millions of Americans have loyally answered the call of duty to serve in the armed forces. Over a million have died in Americas' wars. Many more were wounded. Many were taken prisoners and suffered incredible torture for many months and years. These were, for the most part, men who with honest intentions of helping to preserve liberty, did the best they could under the ugliest of circumstances.
Some stories arose at the end of the Korean War about our POWs abandoning the American cause. Several writers embellished these stories to the point they were trying to convince Americans that nearly two-thirds of all American POWs turned traitor. I am indebted to Arden Rowley of Mesa, Arizona for shedding new light on the Korean War POW question that has been discussed for years. Mr. Rowley served in the Korean War, was captured by the North Korean communists, and spent 33 months in five different POW camps in North Korea. He has served for several years as Historian of the Korean War ExPOW Association.
Mr. Rowley's concern is for the misinformation which many of us have heard and read about concerning the behavior of our POWs in Korea between 1950 and 1955. We have heard that "less than 5% of them even knew why they were fighting and what was meant by liberty and freedom." and that ".38% who died didn't die from starvation or punishment. They simply quit and lay down and died.because they didn't have the will to live." Some of us have been led to believe that the American soldier in the Korean War was so devoid of moral training that many yielded to the brainwashing tactics of their communist captors.
Among the vast material Mr. Rowley has made available to us on this subject is a report by Chairman Whitney Gillilland, of the Foreign Claims Commission. This commission was charged with investigating which POWs were totally loyal to the American cause and therefore would be qualified to receive POW pay for their time in captivity. (This question of indemnifying surviving prisoners for enemy mistreatment arose also after the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and World War II.)
The official report of the commission, issued in 1956, should lay to rest the rumors of wholesale defections to the communists by Americans in the Korean War. Chairman Gillilland reports:
"Beginning in the spring of 1953 stories have appeared in the press and elsewhere to the effect that American GI's held prisoner of war in North Korea did not demonstrate the sturdiness that might have been hoped for in resisting Communist indoctrination. Instead of challenging the accuracy of these accounts, critics have apologized for them and belabored the Army and the American educational system claiming that the GI's were poorly prepared for their ordeal. These stories have no doubt caused anxiety to many people.
"A number of authors infer that Americans have lost purposefulness and direction and the capacity for success, and that the only persons in the day and age who know where they are going and what they are doing and why they are doing it, and succeed in getting it done, are the Communists. They make it appear that we are a decadent generation and no longer any match for the clever and progressive Communists.
"Some of these people in effect present the American GI's as poor, ignorant, miserable, weak creatures, lacking in principle, pride, faith, honor, character, loyalty, patriotism, and integrity, incapable of resisting, and who did not resist the teaching of communism to which they were skillfully subjected. This is all dangerous talk and it would have been better for the critics to have given more attention to the accuracy of their tales....
"It seemed reasonable to expect that the average conduct of our GI's would be about like that of their forefathers under similar circumstances. They actually did conduct themselves better.
"An attack on the will to resist of our GI's was made by starvation, lack of medical care, exposure to cold and filth, and sometimes outright brutality. Thousands of our boys died as a result of this treatment. Meanwhile the survivors were subjected to a constant and clever plan of Communist indoctrination. The enemy could have taken little satisfaction in the results.
"The evidence clearly shows that the Communist effort to indoctrinate was a failure and that on the whole our boys were resolute and maintained their principles. Far from being a source of shame the record is one of which Americans can be proud." (See Foreign Claims Commission Report to Congress, 1956, pp. 219-220)
"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"
Few Americans will give much thought on Memorial Day to the "unfinished work" which President Lincoln said is the charge to those of us still living. He went on in his simple and eloquent way to tell what this unfinished work would be:
- "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 gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain"
What else could possibly motivate Americans more than the suffering and/or death that loved ones have endured on our behalf?
Americans have already been given the formula for peace--the formula which could prevent more wars and suffering and death in our country and in the world. We have been given the Law of Peace. It is called the Constitution of the United States. Surely, President Lincoln was hoping that Americans would follow the Constitutions dictates more precisely, knowing that by doing so many American lives would be saved from the destruction of useless war.
Two Great Safety Nets to Promote Peace
Among the many "safety nets" in the Constitution are two specifically designed to ensure that our military might is properly used.
The first is that the power to declare war and commit troops into an extended engagement lies not with the president but with Congress. The Founders had learned from Europe that most wars are a result of dictatorial decree by one person or a small group of powerful behind-the-scenes operators. War always involves and disrupts the lives of millions of mostly innocent people and causes death and permanent injury to many. If the decision for war is to be made, let it be done by the representatives of those people who will bear the brunt of the war.
Secondly, the Founders feared a large standing army at the disposal of the president. So they wisely required the building up of a large army to be done by Congress as it called up militia units from the various states. This was the real source of American military power. It is interesting that the calling up of militia units was strictly limited to three purposes: 1) to suppress insurrections, 2) to repel invasions, and 3) to enforce laws of the United States. (See Article I, Section 8, Clause 15) Notice that none of this authorizes military incursions into other countries unless the United States is in direct danger.
America - The Great Neutral of the Earth
Many Americans who have maintained the vision of the Founders for real peace have concluded that many of our wars, both declared and undeclared, have been tragic wastes of the resources and lives of our people. Listen to the vision of Congressman Charles A. Lindbergh as he described how much more good America could have done rather than participate in the butchery of WWI. In 1923, he wrote:
"Take for example our entry into the World War [in 1917]. We did not think. We elected a president for a second term because he said he 'kept us out of war' in his first term. We proved by a large vote that we did not want to go to war, but no sooner was the president re-elected than the propaganda started to put us to war. Then we became hysterical, as people always have done in war, and we believed everything bad against our enemy and believed only good of our allies and ourselves. As a matter of fact all the leaders were bad, vicious. They lost their reason and the people followed....
"We cannot properly blame the people of any of the European nations, unless we blame ourselves. None of them were free from danger of the others.... We, however, were not in danger, statements by profiteers and militarists to the contrary notwithstanding.... The greatest good we could do the world at that time was to stay out, and that would have been infinitely better for ourselves, for we could have helped the world had we conserved our resources.
"There never was a nation that did a more un-statesmanlike thing than we did to enter the war. We came out without establishing a single principle for which we entered....
"The one compelling duty of America is to put its own house in shape, and to stand upon an economic system that will make its natural resources available to the intelligence, industry and use of the people. When we do that the way to world redemption from the folly of present chaos will stand out in our country so clearly, honestly and usefully that we shall be copied wherever peoples do their own thinking." (See The Five Thousand Year Leap, p. 275)
In 1939, another great Constitutionalist American, Under-secretary-of-state J. Reuben Clark saw World War II coming and knew powerful forces were working to draw the United States into the war. He knew we could accomplish more if we stayed out:
"America, multi-raced and multi-nationed, is by tradition, by geography, by citizenry, by natural sympathy, and by material interest, the great neutral nation of the earth. God so designed it. Drawn from all races, creeds, and nations, our sympathies run to every oppressed people. Our feelings engaged on opposite sides of great differences, will in their natural course, if held in due and proper restraint, neutralize the one [with] the other. Directed in right channels, this great body of feeling for the one side or the other will ripen into sympathy and love for all misguided and misled fellowmen who suffer in any cause, and this sympathy and love will run out to all humanity in its woe....
"One of the great tragedies of the war [WW II] now starting is that every people now engaged in it have been led into it without their fully knowing just where they are bound. The people themselves are largely innocent of this slaughter.... As the great neutral of the earth, America may play a far greater part in this war.... It is our solemn duty to play a better part than we can do by participating in the butchery....
"If we shall rebuild our lost moral power and influence by measures such as these which will demonstrate our love for humanity, our justice, our fair-mindedness ... we shall then be where ... we can offer mediation between the two belligerents.
"America, the great neutral, will thus become the Peacemaker of the world, which is her manifest destiny if she lives the law of peace." (See The Five Thousand Year Leap, p.276-8)
... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom --
and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall
not perish from the earth. (Gettysburg Address)
Surely President Lincoln had the vision of a peaceful, forgiving, friendly America becoming a powerful influence for peace to the entire world.
Have a sobering and meaningful Memorial Day!
Earl Taylor, Jr.