"I'm afraid I'm a practical man," said the doctor with gruff humor, "and I don't bother much about religion and philosophy." "You'll never be a practical man till you do," said Father Brown.
- G.K. Chesterton
It's Memorial Day in the United States. For many, it has as much meaning as a National Barbeque Day or a National Day at the Beach. For millions more, however, it is a reminder of the great, intangible, qualities that make a person, a community, and a nation.
The extent to which one believes in such qualities is the point at which nations divide. For many years, we have had influential people who scoff at patriotism and who view the world in economic terms. You've heard them: "All wars and foreign policy commitments are fought and made because of money." "The people who go into the military do so only because they cannot find a job elsewhere." "Whenever someone says 'It's not the money, it's the principle,' then you know that it's the money."
Oddly enough, many of the individuals with those opinions claim to disdain materialism and yet theirs is the most materialistic viewpoint of all. They miss the power of the intangible love for freedom that causes people to act against their material interests. George F. Kennan wrote years ago about the moralistic aspects of American foreign policy that separate it from policies driven solely by power politics. He was not saying that Americans are immune from such temptations, but that there is another element to most American policies; an element that can confuse observers who believe that all nations operate from selfish interests.
The people we remember today were part of that great intangible love for freedom. They did not bleed and die for a ledger sheet. And the Americans, Britons, Australians, Poles, and others who are in the front lines are the living representatives of those who knew the something that "practical" men and women have forgotten.