Jewish World Review Nov. 2, 2001 / 16 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762
Lewis A. Fein
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- SINCE this past September, Americans now know what things to avoid. But few people recognize what places they must visit. Yet the only earthly world of peace, where heroes rest and heroism never dies, is within America's military cemeteries. And, nestled between nature and civilization, is one of America's most important yet ironic tributes: The Los Angeles National Cemetery.
The cemetery is America's promise to thousands - that, regardless of economic success or military preparedness, this nation will always remember (and will not permit) the murder of history. To knave and naysayer alike, the cemetery refutes the charge heard throughout the world - and, unfortunately, within the classrooms here at UCLA - that the United States is an evil imperialist power. For, within the final resting place for men with names like Raskin, Erickson, Woodson and Malone, is the reality of the outside world.
This alternate reality, particularly at UCLA, opposes American military action against Afghanistan. In fact, The Daily Bruin, the official student newspaper of UCLA, rejects any military response against the Taliban. Instead, the newspaper's editors prefer the comfort of palm trees, rather than the difficult but honorable price of patriotism. That is, UCLA undergraduates - no, most college students - now constitute nothing more than a crude group of academic grave robbers: nocturnal thieves that seek to undo the memory beneath every crucifix and Star of David, from Normandy, France to Arlington, Virginia to Los Angeles, California.
These children across the cemetery - imagine a metaphorical East Berlin, where the convenient predictability of tyranny outweighs the hard choice of freedom - hate what permanent internment represents - mortality. For death is final, with only the legacy of one's actions and the poetic reflection of another's words as some form of remembrance. And, as the words themselves recede and the physical stone of memory becomes commemorative powder, posterity will merely ask just one question: When tyranny threatened, did America's youth support and actively defend freedom?
Today's students ignore freedom's plea, because they cannot envision a world without themselves. These students view the men (and women) entombed beneath freedom's banner as pitiful dupes, bones clothed in khaki and decorated in purple, gold and silver. These students treat the cemetery as wasted real estate, where every touchdown pass, home run ball or field goal also involves scaling freedom's fence. Even the barbed wire of shame - that one walks humbly before heroes - cannot exclude these creeps.
Again, these students simply hate military honor. They hate military honor because, by definition, war is typically a choice between good and evil. America's wars - even its most controversial conflicts, including Vietnam - are about freedom versus tyranny. Yet what students loathe, and what they will never understand, are the reasons - independent of conscription - that explain the willingness, indeed the eagerness, of Americans to fight evil.
In short, Why do minorities voluntarily accept the price of military honor? After all, these are the very people (or the direct descendants of the same) cheated by the principles of American equality. Forced to drink before the bitter fountain of segregation, and humiliatingly spat upon, these heroes - many of whom rest peacefully in military cemeteries - fight for a reason no college student can understand: because one day, as soon as possible, every person - at home and abroad - will enjoy the benefits of liberty.
The idea of liberty motivates military honor, and undoubtedly infuriates contemporary college students. For only honor explains why young Jewish men, their Russian, Yiddish or Polish accents newly "Americanized," symbolize freedom - even though they themselves will never enjoy the fruits of liberty. These are America's immigrant icons, furriers with callused hands and broken backs; matronly giants, too timid or respectful to ask strangers for help, lest the stuttered cadence of broken English reveal their newcomer status; former sharecroppers looking for - no, begging for - work, against the hard bigotry of liberal enlightenment; women denied the rewards of economic advancement - these are the people in America's military cemeteries.
The time will soon come when every young American will have to choose between convenience and freedom. And yes, some otherwise privileged college students may eventually cross a military cemetery's great seal, separating life and eternal peace. Yet no American should question what that cemetery represents, and posterity will have no problem identifying what that resting place truly states:
Where Valor Proudly