Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Give thanks but walk with a big stick

Sunday was spent at the National Mall with a heavily pregnant Mrs G, trying to shake the baby down by walking the monuments from Lincoln to Washington. A centrepiece of DC, the national monuments are all housed in the Mall, with the Capitol building at one end , a grassy expanse covered with pick up football and ultimate Frisbee games, the Washington Monument in the middle and the Lincoln Memorial at the far end. Sandwiched inbetween are monuments to Roosevelt and Jefferson and Memorials to the dead of WWII, Korea and Vietnam.

Whilst all the memorials are impressive, respectful, well looked after and serene, the one to which I really related was the Vietnam Memorial. 70 pieces of black granite rising to over 10 feet high, it carries the names of some 58 thousand Americans who gave their lives in this most controversial of wars in the 16 years between 1959 and 1975. Located between the monuments to 2 great Presidents, it is a place where people gather to mourn their loved ones in a public setting, which, although its design provoked controversy initially, now seems to be part of a consensus.

Every year at memorial day, the names of the dead and the MIAs are read from the wall, much as is done in Israel on Yom Hazikaron. It takes days to do so.

The Korean War memorial, on the other side of the mall, bears a simple inscription: "Freedom is not Free". It's a very basic truth and often forgotten. Sometimes you have to stand up and fight because it's the correct and moral thing to do. Some fight on their own doorsteps to protect their families and friends; others travel across the continents to fight for what is right.

We remember our war dead with great respect but we also need to remember what they fought for and to honour their memories by continuing to fight for it; the next conflict has already begun and it seems that much of the Western world doesn't have the stomach for it, expecting it's freedoms to be without price. Churchill was dismissed as a warmonger in the 1930s for continuously warning of the coming conflict, whilst Chamberlain sought to appease. There's a very obvious parallel in the way in which the world is dealing with Iran, Syria et al today. We should remember how far the policy of appeasement got us in 1939.


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