Walking the National Mall in Washington, D.C., calls up dozens of emotions. Each war memorial has its own aura the hauntedness of the Korean War Memorial, the human outcry at the Vietnam, the noble nature of the World War II.
Those memorials are ground zero for not only our national mourning but our national pride and commitment. And like signal towers, those memorials beam such feelings into the cemeteries across the nation each Memorial Day. Some of those cemeteries have alabaster monoliths and bronze soldiers of their own. Others, in small towns, may have a simple cross or two and a flag. But the continuity is there. Across the country, America's fallen soldiers are like nails, holding the Republic together.
That is both sad, yet fortunate.
In the old John Wayne movie "The Undefeated," a Union officer confronts a Confederate officer with the words, "We're all Americans." The old Rebel responds, "I know. That's the saddest part."
The same might be said for the divisions and cultural firestorms stressing the seams of the nation today. Notions of any war being a "popular war" are fading now. From here on out, one fears getting all Americans on the same page will be daunting. That heady individualism that Alexis de Tocqueville noted in Americans after the Revolutionary War has gone from a quirk of personality to a lifestyle. Calls for sacrifice and armed conflict will likely drive Americans apart more than pull them together.
Still, we have our fallen soldiers as a common bond. Thinking of the men and women who gave their lives for an ideal gives everyone pause. They belong to us all. Fallen comrades are one of the few things Americans can still share.
Wandering among the monuments on the Mall of the Capitol, even visiting a small-town cemetery, still kindles the notion that, down underneath all of our preening and self-indulgence, Americans still have what it takes to link arms and pull together in harness for a grand cause and a worthy endeavor.
The honored dead on battle fields from Bunker Hill to Baghdad stir in us an American song.
On Memorial Day, that song resonates louder than the cacophony and dissonance in the nation. E Pluribus Unum, that harmonic hum of unity, is still audible. Armies of fallen soldiers believed America as a country was worth their sacrifice.
Perhaps they can help convince the rest of America that their idea of America still rings true.