Cambridge pauses to honor vets

Sandy Hull
Cambridge American Legion Post No. 417 members posted the colors during the Cambridge Memorial Day service Monday, May 25. They are from left, Donovan “Bush” Anderson, Tom Montgomery, Bill Heck, Dick Borg and Hugo Ross.

 Residents of the community gathered Monday, May 25, for Memorial Day ceremonies at the Cambridge Community Hall and on the lawn of the Henry County Courthouse.

 The day began with the national anthem played by the Cambridge High School band under the direction of Christine Allen. They played three more selections, “America the Beautiful”, “Days of Glory” and “Star Spangled Banner”.

 The Advance of Colors was given by the Cambridge American Legion Post No. 417.

 Tom Montgomery served as Master of Ceremonies and gave the opening and closing prayers. Taps were played by Alex Frew and Samantha Stevenson.

 Wreaths were placed on the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument by member of the Cambridge American Legion Auxiliary and Cambridge Cub Scout Troop No. 135.

 The Memorial Day address was presented by Bruce Carmen.

 Carmen is a shareholder in the Cambridge law firm of Telleen, Horberg, Smith and Carmen, P.C.

 He joined the firm in 2001 after 15 years of private practice in Rockford and Chicago. His practice includes criminal defense, domestic relations and civil litigation.

 Carmen was born in Boston, Mass., in 1958. He is a 1981 graduate of the University of Illinois College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a 1984 graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa upon his graduation from college.

 He is married to Isabel P. Carmen, who is employed as a deputy court clerk at the Henry County courthouse. He has two children, Melinda, 24, a law student at DePaul University and Gregory, 19, who attends the University of Illinois.

 Carmen’s address for Memorial Day 2009 is repeated below.

 Memorial Day is a special day in this nation, because it is our time for trying to give meaning and understanding to the fact that many American sons and daughters left families before their times, or returned home in a disabled or disfigured condition. I also believe Memorial Day speeches are not appropriate for political discussions, and I hope no one here today thinks that’s what I’m doing.

 Let me also preface my remarks by saying I have great admiration and respect for our new president, and a great appreciation for what his election means to our country in social and historical terms.

 But in his first four month of office, it seems as though President Obama has gone out of his way to downplay the notion of American exceptionalism. Perhaps he is reacting to the previous administration’s sometimes unilateral approach to dealing with world-wide security issues. Or, if one were of a different mindset, one could argue that he is appealing to a new generation of Americans who don’t want our country to be perceived as something inherently better or more praiseworthy than other nations. It would take too long for me to go into why I think that might be the case, if it is the case of all, so I won’t.

 The first thing that comes to mind when I try to understand how and why these things are so is that our nation is indeed different and certainly exceptional. Our nation was founded on principals, not political expediency or ethnic or nationalist familiarities. Now being founded on principles does not make our country unique. In fact some of the more repressive regimes in the world owe their existence and survival to principles and ways of thinking. Cuba comes to mind immediately, as does a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Those principles don’t appeal much to Americans, or most other people in the world, but they’re out there.

 What makes us exceptional is the depth of our belief in those principles upon which our nation was founded - - individual freedoms, self-government, religious tolerance and liberty, the rule of law as exemplified by our having one living constitution for our entire existence. For 233 years, the American people have deemed those principles so important that they are worth fighting for, and worth defending in distant lands when they are threatened by freedom’s enemies.

 Ask yourselves this: what principles do other nations deem worthy of sending their sons and daughters in harm’s way to preserve? For many in the Islamic world, their hatred of the State of Israel and its allies fuels aggressive violence which harms as many as possible, innocent or involved. Is ethnic or religious hatred a principle worth fighting for? Worth killing for? Worth dying for?

 For centuries, the nations of Europe fought each other or conquered smaller, weaker nations because there was too little land and too many ambitious monarchs. Are imperialism and greed principals worth fight for? Killing for? Dying for?

 Until our country came along and became an industrial and military power at the beginning of the last century, what nations, unless under compulsion of a mutual defense treaty, voluntarily sent their sons overseas based solely on the idea that it is the right thing to do to protect another nation from losing its precious freedoms? The answer is “none”.

 So why the fear of American exceptionalism? Why do we seem to be pulling back from the idea that our country got it right, and a good chunk of the rest of the world has got it wrong?

 The word “arrogance” comes up. If is is arrogant to believe that people should have the right to determine the course of their own lives, and it is arrogant to believe that repressing or abusing human rights in the name of some other principles is wrong, then to paraphrase the man for whom this country was named, give me arrogance or give me death. Were the abolitionists arrogant because they were certain that slavery was wrong, notwithstanding its Biblical roots, historical acceptance and legality in the southern colonies and states? Were suffragettes arrogant in believing women should have the right to vote, even though they did not have the right almost 150 years?

 Does this mean our country is always right and the rest of the world is wrong? Of course not. As Winston Churchill put it, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Government by the people means government by imperfect beings, sometimes motivated by things other than the best interests of the people who elected them. Take Illinois’ last two elected governors, for instance.

 It sounds like I’m digressing, but I’m not. The belief in American exceptionalism is not a form of conceit or misplaced pride. Americans are just one small part of the human race. Our country doesn’t have the right to claim a superior moral position in the world because our citizens are not any better, smarter or more virtuous than any other nation’s. What we have, however, is a collective tradition, a history, a common belief that as a people, we will do what it takes to ensure that those core principles upon which this country was founded should be nurtured where they are nascent, protected where they are threatened and advocated strenuously where they are either rejected or ignored. We the people believe that to such a degree that we are willing to send our sons and daughters to fight and die so that these principles can take root, grow and flourish. On this day where we remember those who have fallen in pursuit or defense of those principles, we should embrace the uniqueness of our place in the world, and while mourning those who have fallen, celebrate the principles for which they fell. That is what makes us exceptional.

 God bless you all, and God bless America.