Cigarettes, Candy, C-Rations, and Freedom

  Throughout history, the sight of armed soldiers has always terrified civilians. Soldiers almost always meant an orgy of looting, pillaging, rape, and even murder. That was certainly the case at the end of World War II. Historian Stephen Ambrose, writing in the Wall Street Journal, notes that, at war's end, "The most terrifying sight to most civilians was a squad of armed teenage boys in uniform." Whether it was the Red Army in Warsaw, the Japanese in Manila, or the Germans in Holland, this sight meant trouble. There was one exception to this tragic rule. "Everywhere in the world," Ambrose writes, "whether in France, Belgium, the Philippines, Germany, or Japan, the sight of a twelve-man squad of GIs brought joy to peoples' hearts." Why? "Because the sight of those American kids meant cigarettes, candy, c- rations, and freedom. They had come not to conquer or terrorize but to liberate." What made those American soldiers so different, even from their European counterparts who shared a common western and Christian heritage? What made them different was a commitment to and a love for a set of ideals. These were the classic ideas of the American founders. Unlike other nations, American identity is not based on ethnicity or geography. It's based on a moral proposition. This proposition comes straight from the faded and yellowed document: The Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." When I went into the Marine Corps, this is what I was willing to die for, and this is what being an American has meant to GIs through the years. This belief, in turn, has shaped the way GIs treated civilians -- even in enemy countries. After all, how can you terrorize men and women when you are fighting to protect the life and liberty of every human being? Sadly, in the past twenty years, Americans have weakened in their commitment to principles contained in our founding documents. Our nation has begun to systematically exclude entire classes of people from its guarantees. We've excluded those waiting to be born. We've excluded people with handicaps like Downs syndrome. Through physician-assisted suicide, we've begun to exclude the elderly and the infirmed. Today, many are proposing that we add to this tragic list: Through cloning, they want to create human life only to destroy it. If we continue down this road, I have to ask myself: Will American GIs in some future conflict be as welcome as those who liberated Europe after World War II, or those who more recently unshackled Afghanistan? And will those troops have the same respect and compassion for the innocent? It's something to ponder with thoughts of Memorial Day still fresh in our minds. This week BreakPoint will continue to focus on the theme of Memorial Day, remembering those who have gone before us and served. So why not take a moment with your family to discuss the moral truths that lie behind the holiday, that have motivated our GIs over the years -- truths that have guarded the innocent in ages past and, God willing, will guard them in the future? For further reading: Michael Novak, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding (Encounter, 2002). You can read the Declaration of Independence (4 July 1776) at the National Archives and Records Administration Website.


Chuck Colson


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