Reflections on Normandy

A few years ago, I had an epiphany of sorts that helped lead me to want to collaborate on a project like Fulfilling the American Promise in the Connected Age. It was a beautiful spring morning in Normandy. It was brisk, but the rising sun cast a warm glow across the Normandy countryside and on Omaha Beach (yes, that Omaha Beach).

I was at the Memorial in the Normandy American Cemetery doing my morning routine before the cemetery opened. As usual, I was all alone. I walked the perimeter of the cemetery plots to make sure all was in order—grass perfect, headstones clean and no limbs or–heaven forbid, trash–and then tested the carillon to make sure it was functioning properly by playing the National Anthem of our country.

As the Star-Spangled Banner was playing, I stepped out from the basement of the Memorial, stood at attention, facing our nation’s flag and then looked down upon the beach and the seemingly endless crosses and Stars of David before me. It was just me and the remains of 9,387 Americans, many of whom died on the beach below in June, 1944.

As the sun began to illuminate the beautiful chapel which sits in the middle of the cemetery in its warm but soft yellow glow, something hit me pretty hard. It was an image of our nation, strong and incredibly magnetic, pulling my very being into its grasp even more than it ever has before. I deeply felt how my nation is so important to me. I intimately felt what it stands for and that no election or policy would ever break that bond, that allegiance, that love that I hold for America.

It was just as the Affordable Care Act was creating a stir and a few people had raised the notion of seceding from the United States based on opposition to the Act and the federal overreach they perceived it to be.  I realized then how far some Americans had gone astray.  As a native Texan, I was concerned that some people in my home state would dare to suggest secession for any reason, much less their belief that somehow America wasn’t worth holding onto and holding together. Worse, the Governor of Texas had used a bit of reckless language which was further inspiring others to feel that secession was worthy of consideration.

In the humbling presence of thousands of our war dead, I self-affirmed that there were very few things that could ever lead me to wish to seriously question my allegiance to the union that is America. These wonderful brave soldiers died on this beach in 1944 to ensure America could stand in the future, in the face of any threat, foreign or domestic. I pondered what would tip me over that very precarious edge to even hint that a state of this nation withdraw from America.

The only things that came to mind that morning were material damage to the sanctity of our elections, pervasive violations of our right to freedom of speech or religion, or perhaps significant censorship of the press or acts of violence on the part of the government to innocent citizens. Perhaps these or other concerns would raise to this level if I thought more about it…but disagreements about tax policy or healthcare?  How could anyone, particularly an elected official, make this suggestion, even in jest?  How could people even suggest that Texas be a party to ripping apart the greatest, most glorious experiment of self-governance over a difference in how to approach healthcare?

I wanted the people advocating this extremist approach to come and stand before these men and women buried in this cemetery and to explain why these soldiers’ sacrifice was great but not great enough to deal with disagreement over our nation’s healthcare system. It might seem to some that there was an expiration date on the value of the blood spilled here, but I knew that couldn’t be the case. That would mean these soldiers’ deaths would only be worthy of inspiring us for a few decades. That would mean that now that the expiration date had apparently passed; we were free to disassemble our nation over differing opinions over healthcare or other policy differences.

Perhaps the advocates of this extreme approach were just letting off steam, but as I stood overlooking that beach in Normandy, it was alarming.

Have some of our citizens lost faith in their fellow Americans to use the system our forefathers gave us? To his credit, unlike many leaders in our nation, this Governor honorably served our nation’s military as a pilot in the United States Air Force and has widely recognized the value of our “great union,” but it would be helpful if he and others could more carefully exercise their leadership role.

We need our leaders to help Americans come together and embrace the truth that our system is strong and resilient enough to temporarily indulge or tolerate inopportune policy. We must recognize, providing we maintain confidence and competiveness in our electoral system, that a policy will either succeed or fail and that free elections will either result in continuance, improvement or discontinuance of the policy.  We even survived prohibition!

To be sure, both political extremes can fall prey to this…recall the many Americans who threatened to leave America after President George W. Bush was elected?

But here’s the essence of the American approach: it’s still an experiment. Play by the rules, the “ruling party” makes its best and most considered policy on behalf of the American people, and we all see what happens. The side that is closest to right will ultimately succeed…we have elections to ensure that happens. Perhaps the Connected Age technologies we’ve been talking about in this blog will help us make more sense of the electoral process as we continue with the American experiment, but in the meantime we’re doing pretty well honoring the commitment and sacrifices so many Americans have made throughout our history.

As I looked out over our fallen American heroes, I realized that advocates of this “my way or the highway” approach must be either reckless, ignorant, or just plain “not thinking.” They fail to appreciate and respect the history of the founding of our nation. Many unfortunate policies have been adopted, but we corrected them without rendering asunder the nation (with one obvious, thankfully temporary exception).

The new American Center needs to always listen and respond to legitimate concerns, but guide extremist solutions to the margins so we can devote our energy and creativity to responsible solutions that have the potential to unite us rather than divide us. We owe this to the men and women I had the honor of safeguarding that beautiful morning in Normandy.

Originally posted by Chuck Hunt, 3/18/2014.

Editor’s Note: From time to time, we will post pieces that reflect deeply personal experiences that demonstrate why we feel it is so important to take on the effort embodied by Fulfilling the American Promise in the Connected Age. This post is one of those pieces. The comments in this post specifically discuss the author’s perspectives and are not intended to convey those of any organization with which he is affiliated.

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