Memorial Day Speech

I was lucky enough to be invited to speak in Bar Harbor [on Memorial Day] by the Chamber of Commerce. This is the text of my speech. Sadly, there’s no video. It’s brief!

As you might be able to guess from my appearance, I’m not a soldier. In fact, you have to go back to my grandparent’s generation to find anyone in my immediate family who served in the armed forces. My great uncle told me once about watching, with his own eyes, as Japanese fighter planes dove into American warships.

But actually, my brother-in-law is in the armed forces right now—he’s a captain in the military police in South Korea. For years he and his family lived within a few hundred meters of the DMZ. My brother in law’s been shot at by North Koreans. In the last ten years, his fellow soldiers have been blown up by mines, hit with artillery, and drowned in the sea thanks to North Koreans.

People ask me, now and then, what I think about the situation there, since I lived in South Korea for eight years. I think you can’t trust their government. You can’t trust them any more than you could trust the Confederacy or the Nazis or the fascist government of Imperial Japan or the Soviet Union, whose empty ideological legacy of enslaving our fellow men and women the North Korean people have sadly inherited. We have fought the monster of slavery many times before, both within and without our borders, and we have defeated it every single time. We will defeat it again.

Speaking of which—did anyone here serve in Korea? Thank you. Have you been to South Korea lately? I have you to thank for my wife and children. My wife’s entire family has you to thank for not being enslaved by the Kim dynasty, and for helping to turn the nation of South Korea into a glittering metropolis of fifty million people.

But today is Memorial Day. We also have to thank those who are not with us here—the 33,652 Americans who died in Korea. 651,008 Americans died in battle since our nation was founded. 1.2 million more died while in active service.

Yesterday I was knocking on doors in Blue Hill, and I couldn’t resist stopping by the old cemetery there. I found two gravestones belonging to men who were born in the thirteen colonies, and died in the United States. They did not die in active service. 48,000 American soldiers, or about one in twenty able-bodied white males, gave their lives in the American Revolution so that we could speak freely here today. Crispus Attucks, a man of Native American and African descent, was the first American killed in the Boston Massacre, and thus the first American to shed blood in the American Revolution.

I want to conclude by quoting the end of the Gettysburg Address, which is probably the greatest speech ever made on the subject of war and sacrifice, and which was delivered several months after the last hope of the Confederate slave-owners was destroyed in battle. I have modified it slightly.

The brave men and women, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated this land, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

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