War brings out the best and worst in people. Humble people are driven to super-human effort on the battlefield. Great and noble often become monsters in crisis. The undefined boundaries between good and bad become absolute when holocaust strikes. Gentle become bold, braggarts weak. The change is not worked by magic, rather by circumstances. These become the tested. Tempered by circumstances, reaffirmed by character and conscience.
During the turmoil after terrorists flew civilian jets into the World Trade Towers in New York City, brave souls came to the rescue of strangers. For some it was their job: fire fighters, police, emergency medical personnel. Most of those were trained to handle disasters. Nothing prepared them for what happened in lower Manhattan that day and thereafter. Civilians, trapped in the ruins, helped strangers. Many were able to survive only with the kindness of others that guided them to safety. Many perished serving the common good.
Without leadership ordinary people become extraordinary. Those that do not seek power or self-aggrandizement become heroes. Wartime heroes that sought glory often performed cowardly deeds seeking fame and fortune. Cities are named for the ambitious George Armstrong Custer. His fate was sealed when he led his troops into battle against what he thought was an unarmed Indian village.
Custer’s plan was to attack and kill unarmed women and children then burn their village. In a letter to his wife, now among archive documents, Custer expressed the desire to gander enough fame in the press to run for President of the United States. To achieve this ambition he would murder unarmed native people, a popular pursuit at that time in American history.
Custer’s defeat is a memorial to America’s national program to exterminate native people. Custer and his men fought valiantly to save their own lives. Nothing was said of the bravery of the Indians that defended their villages and died or suffered grave wounds. None received any of the 8 Congressional Medals of Honor bestowed on the soldiers. Their victory and courage was overcome by hatred and greed. Only recently is history remembering their courage and the dishonor and treachery of profiteers of the day.
“We have our heroes too,” Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear told sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski in 1948 when they started the Crazy Horse Memorial sculpture on a barren mountain in South Dakota’s Black Hills. The massive undertaking was not nearly finished in the men’s lifetimes. It is continued today by the sculptor’s family supported by good will of thousands and the moral support of descendants of native peoples that struggled through disease, famine, pestilence and torture at the hands of white people that stole their lands for its gold and richness. The land is littered with bones and broken treaties, promises by cowards that used power to submit others to slavery.
Slavery is not far from the minds of many black people who today trace their roots to those taken by tribal chiefs in Africa and transported in chains to work or be whipped in America. The bounty of the land was harvested through ordeal of enslaved people. Despite fear and punishment many brave souls fought and died to secure their freedom. Some are revered heroes today, many humble dead forgotten to time. A great Civil War tore the nation apart to end slavery. Heroism on both sides is remembered today.
The United States then and now embodies personal liberty and freedom as a credo. Circumstances have eroded civil rights and safeguards of the Constitution with war powers granted under the guise of homeland security. In that aspect alone terrorists have won their battle against democracy. They have instilled fear and distrust among a nation of neighbors. Immigrants are considered inferior job stealers, potential criminals and terrorists. Suspicion has been encouraged by those in power in place of the highest national credos of peace and tolerance.
This is not a universal truth. Forever there are bastions of freedom. The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet been packed with political hacks with political predisposition for freedom-breaking. Court packing has been tried. Often verdicts have been predicted by presidents that have flooded even the highest court with cronies that best beckon their politics. Those that follow the dictates of the law are heroes, those that bring their politics to bear on social issues in writing their decisions are cowards. They betray the power entrusted to them.
America’s great redemption occurred during the fury of two World Wars. Heroes stormed ashore in Normandy and now forgotten beaches in the Pacific. Courageous they were that entered death camps in Germany, Poland and elsewhere where evil men persecuted others simply because of their religious beliefs. For Jews everywhere liberation and foundation of an independent state of refuge meant survival. It was only accomplished through armies of privates overcoming their fear in the face of adversity and death to render justice and freedom to a world gone insane.
More wars followed the war to end them all. Cowardice and arrogance was revealed in massacres at Mei Lei and elsewhere during the Vietnam War. Not to be forgotten are the incursions by Chinese Communist dictators into Korea. That terrible war ended in stalemate. China simply continued to pull the strings on their North Korean puppets.
Some American service personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq violated the code of honor and decency. Some treated, some still treat, civilians there as sub-human in their endeavor to achieve uncertain goals once established upon the lies of a former President.
In China, a land of 1.7 billion people, with a diverse population and many different cultures, a Communist dictatorship defines every aspect of life. People are persecuted, jailed, tortured and subjected to the most indecent experiments because of their expression of peaceful resistance. Dictators with their armed forces have been accused of taking live victims of the Falun Gong peace movement, cutting them open alive, then removing their organs for sale to foreigners in need of transplants. This while America and the world stands by. The motive is greed. Cheap Chinese government exports profit a few but in the overall picture deprive America of its own manufacturing, labor and eventual economic survival.
With it all civilian life is replete with quiet heroes. The toilers at religious institutions that work as volunteers, selflessly, to insure money is raised to do good deeds. Young people that collect food for pantries that offer supplements to those in dire financial straits. Everyday Americans that support projects overseas because they recognize a need.
Mother Teresa put it squarely when she said “Poverty is the absence of love.” We never feel so good as when we have done something kind for another. It can be a good deed to another person, kindness to other creatures that share this planet with us, even little tasks we can perform every single day that save energy so as not to deplete natural resources. On this Memorial Day remember the valiant. From their tasks learn that we can all be quiet heroes. Sometimes it only requires a kind word.
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Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and are not necessarily representative of Epoch Times.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Christopher Fine investigated government activities around the world while attached to the U.S. State Department’s Inspector General’s Office. He served in many posts including Special Counsel to U.S. Senate Investigating Committee and Senior Assistant District Attorney in New York County.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.