Monday, May 31, 2010

"Two Americas..."

William Forstchen:
We are two Americas today. Presidents have “missed” visiting Arlington before this day but this time, the reasons why and what commentators have said in defense so clearly shows a national divide.

Earlier this week a notice from the White House announced that the first family would “vacation” this weekend in Chicago. The First Lady was quoted as saying that this time the children “decided” where they would spend their mini-vacation.

Vacation? So Memorial Day is a vacation weekend now, even for the first family? Of course, it was quickly pointed out that the president would visit a military cemetery near Chicago. Of course.

But that is not Arlington. Arlington is the symbolic center of our national memory for those who died in service to our country. It is as well where the Tombs of the Unknown from most of our 20th century wars are located. The ritual of the Unknown Soldier, as symbolic of all the fallen emerged after World War One, when from the torn battlefields of Europe, America and other nations recovered the unidentified remains of one soldier, to thus symbolize the millions whose final resting places are “known but to God.” To honor the Unknown is the symbolic act of honoring all and thus it became a sacred ritual.

Arlington is “the vision place of souls,” and the Tombs of the Unknown, are the focal point of that memory. When a president lays a wreath before those tombs, it is a symbolic act of memory and mourning on behalf of all of us. The laying of a wreath in and of itself is also a tradition that harkens back to biblical times. For a president, it is one of the highest honors and obligations that comes with his office.

Is that too much to ask of our president? Is it too much to ask of a president to set such an example and rather than have a vacation defined by “the kids” that instead, as the first family together they lead the nation in a day of contemplation and prayer?
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