During that lunch the general told me that Israelis viewed Americans as their “big brothers” and had tremendous respect for the United States. He went on to tell me that the one thing that Israelis in general found hard to understand, however, was an issue that he could not understand either. he wanted to know why Memorial Day had become an opportunity for linen sales and barbecues. He told me that in Israel when they celebrate the sacrifices of their military they do so in a very different and very somber way. At the appointed time motorists turn off their engines, get out of their cars and bow their heads in prayer and contemplation of the sacrifices of their fallen young men and women who made the “ultimate sacrifice.” Radio programming is interrupted for a minute of silence to pray or simply show respect for their fallen members of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces).
I have never been able to get that conversation out of my mind, and every time Memorial Day comes around I find myself contemplating that conversation many years ago, wishing that Americans would find an equivalent way of truly paying homage to our fallen soldiers irrespective of the branch of the military in which they served.
In my musings I came to think about what motivates the valiant members of our armed forces and, I would include, the valiant members of the various law enforcement agencies and other first responders. The obvious answer is that these people all went in harm’s way to defend and protect us and our nation.
America is synonymous with freedom.
I was struck by an idea: wouldn’t it be far more meaningful and appropriate that instead of Memorial Day being an excuse to have a day of commerce and linen sales, we had a day of open intellectual commerce where we celebrate our constitutionally-guaranteed right to engage in debate and discourse in the open intellectual market of a truly free nation?
The time has come to turn Memorial Day into a day of debate and discourse across our nation. The free flow of competing ideas may lead to some heated but peaceful arguments, but could also serve to enable Americans of differing viewpoints to come to better understand each other and, who knows, perhaps arrive at reasonable compromises. This is what the democratic process is supposed to be about.
Freedom of speech and all of our other freedoms is, after all, what our soldiers, who took an oath to defend the Constitution, fought and died for.
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