'This is how a man dies. This is how a man lives'

Posted: May 23, 2002 12:00 AM
Where would we be? As a people and a nation, where and what would we be without those Americans - as Pericles said in 431 BC of Athenians like them - who died handing "the country down free to the present time by their valor"? Without them would we be free? (begin ital) Free? Would we live in the planet's longest, most vibrant, working democracy - and thus feel not only obligated but privileged to respect its laws? Would we have our work ethic, ever re-energized by vital and inventive immigrants here because - flummoxed by barriers to their success in the lands they left - they understand America's stupendous superiority? Would we daily nourish our vast wealth-creating capacity and our consequent boundless generosity? Would we nationally share our passions for family and education - indeed, would our idealism even be possible wherein we instill in our young the desire and the will to become whatever they choose? As a people, we are the way we are - we have what we have - because of those who died for us. For US. Those who answered the call. Those who have understood that patriotism, so sneered at by custard-brained pacifists and evolutionary dead-ends, is moral behavior on a national plane. Those who, in the words of the great science-fiction novelist Robert Heinlein, have recognized that "in simple Anglo-Saxon words, patriotism reads, 'Women and children first!'" - the "moral result" of the civilizational imperative that "men are expendable and women and children are not." Those who always have known implicitly or otherwise that moral behavior is that which leads toward survival of homo sapiens as a breed - immoral behavior, the opposite, leading inexorably to the breed's extinction. Those who have sensed that fine as it may be to theorize about liberty and way of life - however many may die, survival of the group must come first for there to be even the possibility of discussing a topic such as liberty. Those who, each man - as Patton told his troops before setting out for Normandy - "never let(s) the fear of death overpower his honor, his sense of duty to his country and to his manhood." Duty. Faulkner put it as well as anyone: "We founded a land, and founded in it not just our right to be free and independent and responsible, but the inalienable duty of man to be free and independent and responsible. That's what I am talking about: responsibility - not just the right, but the duty, of man to be responsible, the necessity of man to be responsible if he wishes to remain free." Memorial Day honors the nation's war dead. Our best, our bravest, our most - yes - responsible. They did it, and some of them said it, for us. - Nathan Hale: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." - Thomas Jefferson: "The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots." - Jonas Ingram: "The Navy has no place for good losers. The Navy needs tough sons of bitches who can get out there and win!" - Patton: "We'll win this war, but we'll win it only by showing the enemy we have more guts than they have - or ever will have." Three months ago, Neil Roberts, SEAL - thrown out of a lurching helicopter at night in Afghanistan - and, legend now says, taking out possibly 40 al-Qaida soldiers before exhausting his ammunition and yielding his life. Pericles urged Athenians to "realize the power" of their country - as America's war dead did - "and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, 'til love of her fills your hearts; and then, when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honor in action that men were enabled to win all this." And Heinlein: "THIS is how a man dies. This is how a MAN ... lives!"