Memorial Day

Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, was established as a day of remembrance – to give honor to the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. The President of the United States traditionally visits Arlington National Cemetery, and participates in a symbolic wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The precise origins of Memorial Day are in dispute; it is generally agreed that the day originated in a day of mourning following the Civil War, when an unprecedented number of soldiers were killed in battle. It is hard to fathom the scale of loss during the Civil War – over 600,000 dead, when the nations’ population was 30 million – 2% of the population killed in battle…

From the Revolutionary War to today, 1.3 million American soldiers have died while serving their nation. It is safe to assume that just as many Americans today oppose their nation’s international policies, so too at all times. But our nation’s freedoms have been hard-earned, and all who enjoy them – all over the world – owe a deep debt to those Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice.

On August 18, 1918, just a month after his youngest son was killed at the front, President Theodore Roosevelt proudly mentions that his other two sons have been wounded – and that “there has been nothing finer in our history than the way our young men have eagerly and gladly gone to France to fight for a high ideal.”

Their light shines ever bright – a beacon of democracy and freedom.


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Israel Independence Day: JFK, Truman, & the Partition Plan

Immediately after the United States voted in the U.N. for the partition of Palestine into two states – Arab and Jewish, the State Department convinced President Truman to halt all military shipments to the Middle East. At the time Britain was arming the Arabs, and no one was arming the Jews…

What of even-handedness?

The very day after Truman reassured Chaim Weizmann – the international face of Zionism – of his commitment to partition, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. announced that the U.S. recommended abandoning the partition plan, and called for U.N. rule in Palestine.

What of commitment? Consistency of policy?

Here we can see the notes from a memorable speech given by a first-term Congressman from Boston on April 4, 1948. The speaker denounced the “unfortunate reversal… of our policy towards Palestine” as “one of the most discouraging aspects of recent American foreign policy.” He reminded his audience that “since the end of the first World War successive Presidents and Congress have ‘reaffirmed’ the solemn promise of the Balfour declaration” and demanded “explanation from the Administration” as to the “sudden reversal of our position in relation to the partition of Palestine.”

The speaker was the young John F. Kennedy, who had traveled as a student to Jerusalem in 1939, and written at length to his (virulently anti-Semitic) father about the historical intractability of the political situation.

I believe that to this day the United States is torn between an attitude of fraternity with Israel – a nation that shares its deepest values, surrounded by so many nations at fundamental odds with the U.S.A. – and an attitude of realpolitik, where loyalty and common ground mean so little…