Thursday, November 11, 2004

Veterans' Day Reading

On this Veterans' Day 2004, I spent a little time re-reading a book I first read back in high school, At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, by the foremost American military leader of the twentieth century, Dwight Eisenhower. After Ike commanded the Allies in the European Theater during World War Two, he became the Army's top general. From there, he became president of Columbia University.

In the section I read today, Ike talks about his experiences at Columbia, beginning in 1948. Among his goals while there was to channel the university's strength "to serve the nation" by addressing what he saw as critical issues surfaced during and immediately following the war.

In particular, he identified three major issues:

"The mental and physical health of our young people. Weaknesses of mind and body among far too many of them had been startlingly revealed during the war years when hundreds of thousands were rejected from the country's service because they were below minimal educational and phsyical standards.

"The role of pressure groups in every area of our social and economic life. I would later make this the subject of my last address as President of the United States but even then the aggressive demands of various groups and special interests, callous or selfish, or even well-intentioned, contradicted the American tradition that no part of our country should prosper except as the whole of America prospered. Unless there were changes, I felt that eventually only the promises of the extreme right and the extreme left would be heard in public places.

"Third--there was a sort of torpor about individual responsibility and a disbelief that an enlightened and dedicated individual could, on his own, accomplish much for the good of all. This seemed to suggest a disregard for the meaning of American citizenship, and its obligations as well as its rights, or an ignorance of the opportunities for self-expression and self-development in our country." (p.348, Eastern National edition)
As a leader who had dealt with many American institutions, possessed a deep knowledge of history, and a genuine patriotism, Eisenhower saw much. His prescience is astounding. The issues he identified as American Achilles Heels still exist and have, I believe, only worsened.

In a sense, diagnosis is easy. Solutions are more difficult.

But I believe they begin with people humbly turning to God, admitting our common flaws, and trusting that God will give us the wisdom and the courage to deal with these problems. Only a country enlightened and enlivened by God can deal with the many facets of the issues Ike saw: academic institutions, social service organizations, government, churches, and other religious institutions.

I believe that only when we let the selfless God we know through Jesus Christ---the One Who gave us the golden rule to do unto others as we would have them do unto us---into the center of our lives can we learn to move from me to we, to take responsibility for the good of others, and strive to become our best selves.

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