WASHINGTON -- It was my old friend and mentor, Luigi Barzini, who asseverated, "Americans talk too much." He was sitting in the elegant library of his home in Rome. The year was 1978, though I cannot recall the contemporary controversy that aroused him. Luigi's point was that we were wrangling again fortissimo con brio, and he thought our jabbering was obscuring careful thought again. He was a great friend of America. He had been partly educated here. He wrote in both Italian and superb English. In fact, at the time, he was finishing one of his many fine books, "The Europeans." It contains a friendly chapter on the USA full of shrewd insights. He believed we often argued garrulously about things that were not worth arguing about.
A case is about to be tried in the Supreme Court that fits Luigi's diagnosis. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit in 2001 demanding that a 7-foot cross erected in the California desert in 1934 commemorating sacrifices endured by our troops in World War I be taken down. At some point after 1934, the land on which the cross was erected became federally protected, and thus, the cross became a fit issue for the ACLU's squalling about the separation of church and state. The creation of this World War I monument was -- get this! -- part of a 1930s medical program to help World War I veterans recover from shell shock. Physicians treating them thought that their work in the desert heat would be therapeutic. In 2004, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the ACLU, but veterans groups objected -- thus the case's journey to the Supreme Court.
Now, it would seem to me that the cross is a historic monument that need not be subject to contemporary fashions in thought, to wit, the fashion of hunting down religious symbols and eliminating them from government property. The cross simply represents the feelings of service members from a bygone era. There are religious symbols on public display from the past elsewhere. For instance, there are religious symbols on the Supreme Court building. If I recall, I have seen a carving in the court's chamber of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God. There may even be a picture of God up there. Viewing the 1934 cross today might give curious Americans a sense of what our country was like back in those days, before the ACLU was spreading good will around the country by harassing people of faith.