On a Visit to Lincoln

Like most Americans, the older man saw on TV the violence, the killings by the national guard, that occurred that in April 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio. Four students had been shot. The man couldn’t sleep that evening. What was happening to his beloved United States? He was a veteran of World War II, and he was deeply disturbed by the images that had flashed across his screen that day.

After a night of pacing and thinking, the man, who lived in the Washington, D.C. area, decided to take a walk in the pre-dawn hours. Like many of his generation, he looked to Abraham Lincoln as the embodiment of American values and strength in times of trouble. So, he made the trek to the Lincoln Memorial to try to get some peace and some understanding of what the nation was going through.

Along the way to the memorial, the man encountered swaths of young protesters who had come to express their anger at their government. These young people had come to protest not only the killings at Kent State but also to speak about against the Nixon Administration’s policies about the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, and what they felt were Nixon’s movements against free speech and personal freedoms. The man felt odd, out of place, among the long-haired young men and the girls who wore peace signs around their necks and on their clothes. The young people noticed him, too, but in the early morning, they said nothing to him.

When he reached the Lincoln Memorial, the man realized that he was definitely the oldest person on the scene. The protesters had been sleeping in and around the monument, seeking, perhaps, as the older man was, some comfort in the spiritual presence of the great president memorialized there. Some of the young people sleepily woke up as the man made his way up the memorial steps. “What are you doing here?” one of the youngsters asked.

“I came for the same reason you did,” he answered. “I also want to see the war ended. I want the killing to stop.”

Other kids woke up as they heard the conversation, and they gathered around the older man. “Where do you go to school?” he asked one of the young men. “Syracuse,” the student answered. “Good football team,” the man answered, looking for some connection, some link between him and these young people who seemed so different, so strange to his version of America. Another kid told him he went to Stanford. “Ah, California,” the man responded. “Do you surf?” “Yeah,” the boy answered.

“I understand that you hate the war,” he said, changing the subject. “I do, too. But don’t let your hatred of the president and the war make you hate the country,” he advised. “The country is good. I know you probably think I’m a son-of-a-bitch, but I do understand how you feel,” he admitted.

The young people looked at the man skeptically. They later said that he seemed to be trying to connect with them, but that was impossible.

So, as the sun began to rise over Washington on that early May morning, Richard Nixon left the Lincoln Memorial and headed back to the White House.

On the Father of His Country

We all are familiar with the story. Every school child should be able to recite it. The patriots, led by one daring and experienced man, win a great victory over the colonial power and create an independent nation from a loose confederation of former colonies.

We even have a title for the type of man who leads such a successful military rebellion against the colonial master: The Father of His Country. Such a man as this should be lauded, shouldn’t he? Shouldn’t he have mandated federal holidays, celebrated for generations for his amazing contribution to the founding of the nation?

Fighting against the much better trained and much better equipped colonial power, this man used his cunning and small-group tactical experience to fight a guerilla war against the slower, larger colonial forces. It was the smaller victories, he always said, that would slowly chip away at the edifice of the entrenched European power until final victory was achieved. The result? Independence. Freedom. Peace. Prosperity. All the things new nations wish for themselves.

And, after the great victory over the European power was achieved, all that was left was for the will of the people to have this man elected as the first President of the new nation. He was the logical choice, obviously, because not only of his military victories but also because of his charisma, his way of commanding a room when he entered it. No one else in the new nation, it was said, could bring the disparate parts of the country together like he could, either. No one else had his stature, his beloved reputation. Yet, despite the acclaim, he characteristically insisted that he not ever become an emperor or a president for life. That was not his style. The people, he insisted, the nation–those were his priorities.

Yet, the new nation had its enemies. The old power base from the European colonial country still lingered in some pockets of the new nation. Internally, over 1/3 of the population did not like the idea of a new country led by this former military leader. Talks of civil war and rebellion filled the land. Yet, he held his loyal countrymen together by and large. They loved him, especially those who had served with him in the great Revolutionary War.

On top of this, he was a learned man. He had received the finest education possible as a young man, and he spoke several languages. He was also a poet, and he wrote extensively about basic human rights. “There is nothing more precious,” he once said, “than independence and liberty.” At his large but simple home, he enjoyed gardening and taking care of such animals as the fish in his pond, which he fed regularly. When, after a long career of public service, he passed away of heart failure at age 79, he was mourned by hundreds of thousands of his countrymen as, again, the Father of His Country.

Busts, statues, plaques, and monuments have been erected to him in the many years since his death. Streets and universities, schools, and even religious sites bear his name today. Even a city in the new nation was christened in his name:

Ho Chi Minh City.