Memorial Day 2016
Remarks by Congessman McClintock
Memorial Day 2016
In 431 BC, the people of Athens gathered just as we gather today – and for the same purpose – to honor their fallen. It was the first year of the Peloponnesian War. Pericles – the father of Athenian Democracy – spoke that day.
According to Thucydides, most of his oration was about Athens, in sentiments we would find familiar as Americans. He said, “Our system of government does not copy the institutions of our neighbors. It is more the case of our being a model to others than of our imitating anyone else. Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people. When it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law… We are free and tolerant in our private lives; but in public affairs we keep to the law.”
Then he turned his attention to the fallen, and to their families. And he said,
“This, then, is the kind of city for which these men, who could not bear the thought of losing her, nobly fought and nobly died. It is only natural that every one of us who survive them should be willing to undergo hardships in her service. And it was for this reason that I have spoken at such length about our city, because I wanted to make it clear that for us there is more at stake than there is for others who lack our advantages; also I wanted my words of praise for the dead to be set in the bright light of evidence…I have sung the praises of our city; but it was the courage and gallantry of these men, and of people like them, which made her splendid…”
Then he got to the fine point of it all. He said, “So and such they were these men—worthy of their city. You should fix your eyes every day on the greatness of Athens as she really is, and should fall in love with her. When you realize her greatness, then reflect that what made her great was men…who knew their duty, men who were ashamed to fall below a certain standard.
“They gave her their lives -- to her and to all of us -- and for their own selves they won praises that never grow old, the most splendid of sepulchers—not the sepulcher in which their bodies are laid, but where their glory remains eternal in men’s minds, always there on the right occasion to stir others to speech or to action. For famous men have the whole earth as their memorial. It is not only the inscriptions on their graves in their own country that mark them out; no, in foreign lands also, not in any visible form but in people’s hearts, their memory abides and grows. It is for you to try to be like them. Make up your minds that happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous.”
That was 24 ½ centuries ago. Yet Pericles spoke for all of us who are here today – gathered for exactly the same reason.
It is not to mourn the dead. As Pericles said, “One’s sense of honor is the only thing that does not grow old, and
the last pleasure when one is worn out with age, is not, as the poet said, making money, but having the respect of one’s fellow men.”
The young men and women we memorialize today did not grow old, but they achieved the highest of all human ambition – the respect of their fellow man.
Our purpose in coming here is, rather, to take stock of our own lives – measured against theirs -- and to ask, what are we doing to be worthy of the sacrifice they made? What are we doing to defend these freedoms at home that they died to defend abroad?
It is sobering to note that the Athenian democracy, and the Roman Republic, and the other experiments with free societies that came before ours, did not fall because of the failure of their young people who took up arms in their defense. They fell because those who stayed safe at home allowed their nations to decay from within.
Like every generation that has come before us, ours must come to terms with these questions before we can hold our heads high in the presence of these honored dead.
What gives this occasion meaning is not just what they did, but what each of us do as we leave this ceremony today.
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