Bringing Out The Dead
By now, most people have heard about Representative Ginny Brown-Waite's proposal to exhume American military dead in France and transport the remains to "patriotic soil" here in the US.
From what I have seen, most people have been repelled by this idea, and for good reason.
The memorial cemetaries in France are more than the final resting places of thousands of Americans. They are a lasting reminder of one of the most important events in human history. These places -- quiet, somber, beautiful -- not only mark the sacrifice of individual soldiers, but stand as a symbol of the alliance between the free peoples of the earth against the closest thing to evil incarnate that history has ever seen.
Right now, we are involved in diplomatic disputes with most of the rest of the world. There is a very good chance that relations between the democratic nations of the world will be damaged for a long time to come.
But that is irrelevant.
Even if we were to become the closest thing to enemies nations can become without actually going to war, those monuments should still remain undisturbed. France and the United States might bitterly disagree about a great many things, but no one on either side with any degree of rationality believes the other side to be truly evil.
That is why the symbols of our past cooperation should transcend present and future conflicts. A sickness broke out in Europe in the early part of the last century, a condensation of all the things that are wrong with humanity. This sickness rose out of the chaos that followed the First World War, which itself was a tradition-shattering culmination of all the conflicts that had haunted that continent since the Roman armies marched through Gaul.
In an act that can arguably be called the first collective decision made by the human race, that portion of humanity that was free decided to ratify in blood the principles first codified in the Declaration of Independence - Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Not as exclusively American principles, but as a basic part of our conception of ourselves as homo sapiens.
Did these ideals instantly become reality upon the conclusion of the War? No. For significant portions of the world's population, these ideals are still a distant dream. Still, World War II was the first of several giant steps towards this eventual goal. The fall of the Soviet Union left China as the sole remaining world power without democracy and a basic respect for inalienable individual rights. The grand transformation from individual tribes and nations to an entire planet of free men and women is not yet complete, nor will it be for many years to come.
This, however, does not diminish the momentousness of the actions taken by the War generation. The events of the second quarter of the twentieth century must never lose their perceived significance, and the monuments that sit throughout Europe, including those in France, must forever remain intact as a reminder to all future generations of the price that was paid for the freedoms that they will enjoy.
If these sound like huge, epic concepts, it's because they are. They are themes that only come into focus when we look beyond the specific decisions of individual politicians, beyond the actions of individual soldiers, and to the overall effect on the continuing narrative of the human race.
And if there exists such a thing as secular sacrilege, then surely the desecration of these symbols -- symbols made up of the bones of our dead fathers and grandfathers -- in the name of transient spite is it.