When James Lee Burke puts out a new book, I buy it. I’ve been a fan of his for some time. I appreciate his stories, his unique narrator voice, his settings, his characters. He published Wayfaring Stranger in 2014. In it, a character who fought in World War II, opines, “We would be the last generation to believe in the moral solvency of the Republic.”
That line struck me when I read it, and every time I am in a crowd at some event, and we stand, and they play the Star Spangled Banner, I think I see evidence that Mr. Burke’s observation is correct.
According to Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge (site visitors are responsible for providing their own wisdom), James Lee is older than me. Which surprised. But, he and I have lived through interesting time. Me, I can’t say too much about the fifties. Those years, I spent mostly confined to a thirty-mile circle around a little town, population 277. I read the newspapers for the funnies, listened to the radio for baseball, and when TV came to our house, watched it for Red Skelton. The sixties was another matter. My generation, at least more than 51% of it, did not believe the nation was morally solvent. They mobbed up in the streets and shouted their morality at the silent 49%. If I am a patriot today, it is because I interpreted the mobs waving signs as being more interested in tearing the Republic apart than protesting the war. It’s what I thought.
Now, I like to think I am somewhat open-minded.
Did this nation need to have a black president? I believe the answer to that question has not one thing to do with whether I agree with the man’s politics, and I answer, heck yes we did.
Did this nation need to have a generation say, “Hell, no, we won’t go!”? The answer to this question, I believe, has not one thing to do with whether I agree with the politics in their shouts and on their signs, and I say, heck yes we did.
During my time on earth, I have had the opportunity (I joined the US Navy and saw the world) to visit many countries on every continent except Antarctica (and I am very okay with missing that one). One of my convictions is that the best chance for the moral solvency of the human race will come from our Republic. It sounds to me like Ugly American arrogance when I say the preceding. I guess I feel like I have to go through the exercise of arguing with everything I stick in my head as a thing I believe in. I feel like this helps, in a way, to keep my ears open for snippets of moral solvency in what Democrats say, what Republicans say, what single-minded proponents of single political issues say. I try, with my limited powers, to be open-minded.
Back to those events where we hear and sing, “Oh say can you see.” Besides what I reported seeing before, I always see, with peripheral vision, a few who stand at attention, hand over heart, eyes fixed on the flag, for the duration of the song, and I wonder if those are vets or families of vets. I generally presume, yea verily, that’s exactly who they are. And I always have the thought there are too few of us. But then I remind myself of the story about God and Abraham walking down the road, and God says, “Ach, those people in Sodom and Gomorrah! Nothing is right and wrong to them anymore. Everything is just a shade of gray. Anything goes. I have determined to nuke them.” And Abraham starts working on Him about how many good guys and girls He’ll wipe out with the bad. He weasels God down to ten. And Abraham stopped. He’d been doing so well. But they couldn’t find the ten. Bombs away.
I am sure there are more than ten people who believe in the moral solvency of our Republic. And as long as we have a few, I think that’ll carry us to where, someday, God willing, and even though it’s hard as hell to get there, we will get to the place where we realize the principles upon which our Republic was founded.
But. Self-evident truths do not do the work. We have work to do, and miles to go, before we sleep.
I did this piece to say thank you for your service, Vets, and others who believe in the moral solvency of our nation. We may not be a whole generation, but like my US Marine Corps buddies say, we only need a few good men. And women.
And Mr. Burke, you’re my elder after all, if I’ve misinterpreted your intent in what I read of what you wrote, I am standing by to have my views altered. I would just remind. Don’t take too long. You and me, we ain’t getting no younger. See what I’m saying?