Jewish World Review May 24, 2002 / 13 Sivan, 5762

Lewis A. Fein

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Consumer Reports

Vipers within heroism's den | Memorial Day will be particularly somber this year, not for the soldiers that have died (though we commemorate their lives in silence and with prayer) or the destruction wrought by evil here in America (physically cleared by great machinery, but seared within the nation's heart by visual wounds too painful to forget and too awful to deny). No, Memorial Day will be solemn for its moral clarity, an echo heard wherever miniature flags - rooted in the soil of fallen heroes and against the granite of life's entry and man's departure - fly.

For Memorial Day is the only secular holiday that is a dividing line between heroism and moral abandonment: a question - When awarded publicly reserved time, where the calendar officially denotes the solemnity of the occasion and businesses respond with heavily discounted merchandise, does one further indulge his appetites or suppress his material wants? Does one count the number of yellow ribbons and newly interred souls and say, "Better them than me"? Or, does one acknowledge the newly widowed, recently orphaned or freshly bereaved and proclaim, "There, where the mother must now prune her son's grave or the young boy must polish his father's tombstone, is the soul of greatness"? There, where the price of liberty - my liberty to barbecue, drink or relax this Monday - seems so ordinary, rests the hidden price of freedom.

These questions are not merely rhetorical, as one segment of society cannot fathom why anyone would ever die for America. Yet, this same group fully understands and celebrates why anyone would commit terrible murder against America. More perversely, this group will not - under any circumstances, no matter how grave the threat or moral the cause - take up arms against those enemies, mercenaries within a universe of unmitigated evil, that kill Americans.

But this group is not some collection of religious extremists, people for whom Judaism is a sin and Christianity an embarrassment. No, this group - an imprecise collection of academics, professionals and secular elitists - considers Western religion an aberration, though Islam somehow garners convenient awe - not for its heavenly commandments or dietary restrictions, but for its extremist injunction - Kill the infidels! - that claims the lives of Jews everywhere and Americans anywhere. Simply stated, this group cannot contain its glee, an involuntary smirk against what they themselves have long believed and now only openly admit: that America deserved the deadly attacks of last September; that our own country is racist, sexist and imperialist; that Muslim extremism is simply a plaintive cry against our own cultural destructiveness, as if too many Big Macs or Disney theme parks is a reason to murder Americans.

This group, unlike others that legitimately enjoy the fruits of their labor, will behave predictably this Monday -- avoiding all symbols and precincts of American sacrifice. This group will easily ignore why - on that particular moment of remembrance, Memorial Day - mourners lower their heads, parents weep and soldiers stand rigidly tall. For this one day is a hard rebuke against everything this group tells itself, silently repeating those words like a self-hater's blood oath: I will not die for this country, because to die for America - in combat or as a casualty of terrorism this nation can easily avoid - is a denial of my birthright, for fame, power or money.

Memorial Day exposes the real moral differences among free citizens. This day is a reason for thoughtful prayer, as well as a moment for shame. This day is heroism's scheduled tribute, and it is also cowardice's most uncomfortable hour. Against these firm truths, Memorial Day has one message for all groups that hate America:

"Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting"

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles.Comment by clicking here.


© 2002, Lewis A. Fein