Ronald Reagan – Memorial Day 1986

The following is a transcript of Ronald Reagan’s speech on Memorial Day 1986.

Today is the day we put aside to remember fallen heroes and to pray that no heroes will ever have to die for us again. It’s a day of thanks for the valor of others, a day to remember the splendor of America and those of her children who rest in this cemetery and others. It’s a day to be with the family and remember.

I was thinking this morning that across the country children and their parents will be going to the town parade and the young ones will sit on the sidewalks and wave their flags as the band goes by. Later, maybe, they’ll have a cookout or a day at the beach. And that’s good, because today is a day to be with the family and to remember.

Arlington, this place of so many memories, is a fitting place for some remembering. So many wonderful men and women rest here, men and women who led colorful, vivid, and passionate lives. There are the greats of the military: Bull Halsey and the Admirals Leahy, father and son; Black Jack Pershing; and the GI’s general, Omar Bradley. Great men all, military men. But there are others here known for other things.

Here in Arlington rests a sharecropper’s son who became a hero to a lonely people. Joe Louis came from nowhere, but he knew how to fight. And he galvanized a nation in the days after Pearl Harbor when he put on the uniform of his country and said, “I know we’ll win because we’re on God’s side.” Audie Murphy is here, Audie Murphy of the wild, wild courage. For what else would you call it when a man bounds to the top of a disabled tank, stops an enemy advance, saves lives, and rallies his men, and all of it single-handedly. When he radioed for artillery support and was asked how close the enemy was to his position, he said, “Wait a minute and I’ll let you speak to them.” [Laughter]

Michael Smith is here, and Dick Scobee, both of the space shuttle Challenger. Their courage wasn’t wild, but thoughtful, the mature and measured courage of career professionals who took prudent risks for great reward—in their case, to advance the sum total of knowledge in the world. They’re only the latest to rest here; they join other great explorers with names like Grissom and Chaffee.

Oliver Wendell Holmes is here, the great jurist and fighter for the right. A poet searching for an image of true majesty could not rest until he seized on “Holmes dissenting in a sordid age.” Young Holmes served in the Civil War. He might have been thinking of the crosses and stars of Arlington when he wrote: “At the grave of a hero we end, not with sorrow at the inevitable loss, but with the contagion of his courage; and with a kind of desperate joy we go back to the fight.”

All of these men were different, but they shared this in common: They loved America very much. There was nothing they wouldn’t do for her. And they loved with the sureness of the young. It’s hard not to think of the young in a place like this, for it’s the young who do the fighting and dying when a peace fails and a war begins. Not far from here is the statue of the three servicemen—the three fighting boys of Vietnam. It, too, has majesty and more. Perhaps you’ve seen it—three rough boys walking together, looking ahead with a steady gaze. There’s something wounded about them, a kind of resigned toughness. But there’s an unexpected tenderness, too. At first you don’t really notice, but then you see it. The three are touching each other, as if they’re supporting each other, helping each other on.

I know that many veterans of Vietnam will gather today, some of them perhaps by the wall. And they’re still helping each other on. They were quite a group, the boys of Vietnam—boys who fought a terrible and vicious war without enough support from home, boys who were dodging bullets while we debated the efficacy of the battle. It was often our poor who fought in that war; it was the unpampered boys of the working class who picked up the rifles and went on the march. They learned not to rely on us; they learned to rely on each other. And they were special in another way: They chose to be faithful. They chose to reject the fashionable skepticism of their time. They chose to believe and answer the call of duty. They had the wild, wild courage of youth. They seized certainty from the heart of an ambivalent age; they stood for something.

And we owe them something, those boys. We owe them first a promise: That just as they did not forget their missing comrades, neither, ever, will we. And there are other promises. We must always remember that peace is a fragile thing that needs constant vigilance. We owe them a promise to look at the world with a steady gaze and, perhaps, a resigned toughness, knowing that we have adversaries in the world and challenges and the only way to meet them and maintain the peace is by staying strong.

That, of course, is the lesson of this century, a lesson learned in the Sudetenland, in Poland, in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia, in Cambodia. If we really care about peace, we must stay strong. If we really care about peace, we must, through our strength, demonstrate our unwillingness to accept an ending of the peace. We must be strong enough to create peace where it does not exist and strong enough to protect it where it does. That’s the lesson of this century and, I think, of this day. And that’s all I wanted to say. The rest of my contribution is to leave this great place to its peace, a peace it has earned.

Thank all of you, and God bless you, and have a day full of memories.

How R. Dov Ber of Mezeritch, the great Maggid, became a follower of the Baal Shem Tov

One of my favorite stories recorded in the Sefer Baal Shem Tov (p. 7-8) is about how the Maggid of Mezeritch became a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov:

(Freely translated/adapted): R. Dov Ber began hearing about the greatness of the holy Rabbi, Baal Shem Tov and how people would travel from far and wide to witness and receives his prayers.  Now it was that R. Dov Ber had a sharp mind and was an expert in Shas and Posqim.  Additionally, he had his hands in the wisdom of the Qabbalah.  He was curious as to what made the Baal Shem Tov so great. 

He finally decided to travel to the Baal Shem Tov in order to test him.  As he was travelling, he began having regrets for R. Dov Ber was unable to learn while travelling, thus distressing him.  He finally resolved himself to continue, knowing that he would hear Torah when he arrived to see the Baal Shem Tov.  Alas, this was not to be, as all he heard from the Baal Shem Tov were stories.  While the stories contain tremendous wisdom, R. Dov Ber did not see the wisdom or depth of the Baal Shem Tov’s words. 

R. Dov Ber decided he would return home the following morning.  In the middle of the night before his return journey, he was summoned to meet with the Baal Shem Tov. 

The Baal Shem Tov asked him, “Do you know how to learn?” 

He responded, “Yes.”

The Baal Shem Tov then continued saying, “I also heard that you know how to learn.  Tell me, do you have knowledge of the wisdom of the Qabbalah?”

He responded, “Yes.”

The Baal Shem Tov then asked his servant to bring him a copy of the Etz Chaim (Qabbalat HaAri), showed R. Dov Ber one essay and asked him to explain it.  R. Dov Ber read over the work and explained the simple explanation of the text.

The Baal Shem Tov said, “You don’t know anything.”  So R. Dov Ber went back, looked it over again and told the Baal Shem Tov, “The correct interpretation is like I already stated, so if you think you know a higher explanation, please tell it to me for I will hear truth from whomever shares truth.”

The Baal Shem Tov responded, “Get up for this passage contains names of angels.”

As soon as he said this, the text illuminated the entire house and a fire surrounded them.  They sensed the presence of the angels mentioned in the text. 

The Baal Shem Tov then said to R. Dov Ber, “In truth the interpretation is as you said however your learning lacks soul.”

At this moment, R. Dov Ber told his servant to return home and he would be staying with the Baal Shem Tov to learn from him great wisdom. 

For me, the whole story boils down to one thing, namely that while someone might be intellectually capable of learning and expounding, yet be lacking in soul.  To truly reach someone, one must put their whole being, mind, body and soul, into study and teaching. 


The Imperial Cruise – review

In 1905, president Theodore Roosevelt concluded what was a series of diplomatic events that would plant the seeds for the eventual War in the Pacific (1941-1945). This last event was chronicled in the recently published work The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley.

In 1905, president Roosevelt sent a delegation to the Far East on a diplomatic mission. The delegation was headed by Secretary of War, later president, William Taft, and Teddy’s daughter Alice Roosevelt. Taft’s secret mission was to finalize a deal with Japan that would end Korea’s independence. This treaty was brokered without the consent of Congress, an impeachable offense. Little did Roosevelt calculate that this deal would be the beginning of Japanese expansion throughout Asia, culminating in the multiple attacks on US and British colonies on 12/7/41.

Bradley’s work was quite eye opening. For starters, his work reminds us that historical events, when read through hindsight, really show that all choices truly have consequences. What would the Pacific region looked like if the United States had not promoted Japanese imperialism? It seems that with the arrival of Admiral Perry in 1853, opening the Japanese borders to the west, the Japanese began westernizing, which included a growing desire, fostered by the United States, of becoming the lead nation in East Asia. Ironically, much of Roosevelt’s scheme was a result of Roosevelt’s misunderstanding of Japanese Samurai code, for he believed that the Samurai would be subservient, even after being given a taste of power.

Another fascinating piece of this work, though I found Bradley overstating this point, is how race theory played a role in Roosevelt’s policy making. Not an expert in late 19th and early 20th century US history, I was struck by the prevalence of Aryan, white race theory, specifically in the Northeast. For many who became the leaders of this country near the turn of the 20th century, the non-white, non-“Aryan” was seen as an uncivilizable individual. The goal of the US foreign policy in the eyes of Roosevelt was the continued expansion westward, for this was the destiny of the descendants of the ancient German Teutons. As Bradley put it, the goal was to the follow the sun (metaphor fir the Aryan version of history, were the “white” man continuously moved west.  East Asia would then be the last frontier leading back to the land of origin).  I think anyone who reads this book will get a better sense of the depths of racism in this country, whic in certain ways I believe continues even today.

Overall, I would recommend this book for the general public.  The writing and style is accessible to both scholar and layman.  Bradley provides context for the major players and events leading to cruise that helped shape the first half of the 20th century.   

disclaimer: I borrowed the book Imperial Cruise from a local library and did not receive a copy for review.

Grieving in the 21st century

Two recent pieces came across my desk about the use of modern technology as a forum for grieving.  The first is a blog post entitled “Facebook after Death.” In this piece, the author laments and grieves her son’s death and how having his facebook page still available has given her a different outlet for grieving.  She finds comfort in seeing how his friends continue to acknowledge his life even after death. 

The other piece is from Newsweek back in February “RIP on Facebook.”  The author gives a recap on how facebook is used as a virtual tombstone, allowign people to talk to the deceased without having to go to the gravesite. 

Both pieces extol the power of the internet in our lives.  In grief counseling, the first rule is that all people grieve differently.  It would be interesting to see if use of technology helps or hinders the grief process.  Any takers for such a research endeavor?

Many Faiths, One Truth?

In an op-ed in yesterday’s NY Times, the current Dalai Lama argues the idea that all faiths work on the premise of compassion and hence should not be in conflict with one another. He presents short vignettes of all the major religions describing how each has a sense of compassion as a primary virtue.  While he is correct about said premise, compassion doesn’t necessarily translate into the reality of all religions being of a single truth.  I think we sometimes lose track of our differences and hence this causes more conflict than would be had if we come to the table stating our stances on all topics.  Additionally, the use of the word compassion has different connotations for different faith traditions.  I recall, for example, a concept often quoted that love of fellow man from one religion to another might justify evangelizing and proselytizing for love would mean helping to bring about one’s salvation.  This does not seem to me to be tolerance and harmony so much as a misguided sense of compassion.  Hence, to argue for harmony on the grounds of collective compassion might be challenging to many.

A new Semikha program

As first seen on Menachem Mendel’s blog, a new Semikha program is starting in Toronto come the fall.  The claim themselves to be a center Orthodox yeshiva.  The faculty is a mix of UTJ, YCT and YU, with a few Israeli rabbis.  It looks quite intriguing, especially considering that the head of the institution is Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber

From a sociological perspective, I think the opening of an institution of this caliber in Toronto is very telling about Judaism in Canada as opposed to the US.  I recall someone sharing with me years ago that in Canada it is basically Orthodox or Liberal.  Conservative Judaism like we have in the US is almost non-existent.  In a sense, there is more room in Canada for this endeavor, especially considering the early returns on YCT in the mainstream Orthodox community. 

Most will just dismiss this institute as Conservative and be done with it.  However, before condemning this institution, it might be worthwhile to get a full picture of the people and not just judge by which institute each was aligned with in earlier years.

Collective Immortality

In the first chapter of Celebrations of Life, Norman Cousins begins to define immortality as a collective, interdependent existence.  A person’s immortality is not defined as the self existing as self but rather as being part of greater humanity.  He argues that the soul is not the self but part of a collective existence as well. 

I began thinking about the concept that one has an element of the soul of someone greater than oneself.  If we take Cousins’ premise, then it makes sense, for each of us is the composite of humanity and as such has a piece of everyone’s “soul.”

A second aspect of this immortality is from the perspective of the Medieval concept of an active intellect.  Maimonides thus argues in his Guide for the Perplexed that individual divine providence and individual immortality is based on growth in knowledge, which allows one to connect this active intellect.  For Maimonides, it would be the ability to transcend the self to grasp the Divine world which would be the composite of all humanity.

The clarification of knowledge

The beginning of the work, “The Celebration of Life,” by Norman Cousins, provides a stirring definition of how we are able to gain and clarify our understanding of an idea.  Each individual approaches an idea with a different, unique perspective.  I believe this is the basic premise behind much of analytical philosophy as well, namely the idea that word usage is subjective to the individual using that particular word.  

Cousins writes (p. 1-2):

One grows into one’s philosophy.  Year by year an individual is shaped by the sights, the sounds, the ideas around him.  Consciously or not, he is forever adding to or subtracting from the sum total of his beliefs or attitudes or responses, or whatever it is we mean when we say that a person has a certain outlook on life.  I do not mean to say that clearly defined truths of religions and philosophies are inevitably subject to the interpretation of an individual according to his or her experience.  But I would like to suggest that one of the prime glories of the human mind is that the same idea or occurrence is never absorbed in precisely the same way by any two individuals who may be exposed to it.  Each of us views a sunset, reads a book, or participates in a conversation in a different way from another, and each will take from these experiences a different meaning and memory, which will enrich the common human experience. 

 In this sense, each human being is a process – a filtering process of retention or rejection, absorption or loss.  This process gives each person individuality.  It determines whether a human being justifies the gift of human life, or whether he or she lives and dies without having been affected by the beauty of wonder, and the wonder of beauty, without having had any real awareness of kinship or human fulfillment.

Can any individual recognize and define the essence of his own individuality?  Can a camera photograph itself?  It can in a mirror, but even the mirror sees only the outside of the camera.  A mind that attempts to perceive itself can use the tools of language and logic.  But the material with which it deals is beyind mere words or reason.  The marrow of human thought or personality eludes its own product – human analysis – even with the most advanced scientific instrumentation.

So, if we are to pursue our essential philosophical quest in the world – our search for integration – we need to bring together rational philosophy, spiritual belief, scientific knowledge, personal experience, and direct observation into an organic whole. 

In pursuing this integration, we turn to a device worked out more than 2,300 years ago: the Socratic dialogue.  The dialogue as a literary device goes back to Socrates.  Its function is to provide a path for the systematic exploration of ideas.  As used by the Greeks, the dialogue seemed uniquely suited to philosophical thought.  The relationship of human beings not just to each other but to the universe, the ability of people to take command of historical experience, the importance attached to abstract ideas and the need to define values and to put them to work, the reach of human beings when confronted with great challenge, the contemplation of the connection between cause and effect –  all these aspects of the human situation were central to the dialogue.