During my 30-year career with the former INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) I had the privilege of working with members of many other law enforcement agencies, both from within the United States and with those of foreign governments. One of those foreign police forces was the Israeli National Police.
There are times when a statement made by someone else creates a seminal moment; when an issue is brought into such focus that you can never forget it. Such a moment took place quite a few years ago when I joined an Israeli police general for a working lunch. He was sharing information with me about an Israeli fugitive who was wanted for committing serious crimes in Israel and had fled to the United States to avoid arrest. I would ultimately arrest the fugitive for his violations of our immigration laws and have him deported so that he could face justice in his native Israel.
During that lunch the general told me that Israelis viewed Americans as their “big brothers” and had tremendous respect for the United States. He went on to tell me that the one thing that Israelis in general found hard to understand, however, was an issue that he could not understand either. he wanted to know why Memorial Day had become an opportunity for linen sales and barbecues. He told me that in Israel when they celebrate the sacrifices of their military they do so in a very different and very somber way. At the appointed time motorists turn off their engines, get out of their cars and bow their heads in prayer and contemplation of the sacrifices of their fallen young men and women who made the "ultimate sacrifice." Radio programming is interrupted for a minute of silence to pray or simply show respect for their fallen members of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces).
I have never been able to get that conversation out of my mind, and every time Memorial Day comes around I find myself contemplating that conversation many years ago, wishing that Americans would find an equivalent way of truly paying homage to our fallen soldiers irrespective of the branch of the military in which they served.
In my musings I came to think about what motivates the valiant members of our armed forces and, I would include, the valiant members of the various law enforcement agencies and other first responders. The obvious answer is that these people all went in harm's way to defend and protect us and our nation.
America is synonymous with freedom.
Our Constitution and within it, the Bill of Rights, codify our freedoms. Our freedoms are, however, increasingly coming under attack.
In the wake of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 the Fourth Amendment has been all but shredded in the name of national security.
The First Amendment has come under attack through the use of misleading language in what some have referred to as political correctness. It has made debate and discourse increasingly difficult to engage in, especially in our schools and on college campuses and in the news media.
In my view, however, this is not about being “politically correct” but about the implementation of Orwellian Newspeak and was the topic of a my recent article, “America Now Has an Official Language: Newspeak.”
The goal of the practitioners of Newspeak is to shut down debate and consequently the First Amendment.
The First Amendment states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
In a manner of speaking, debate is an example of “intellectual capitalism.” Capitalism is about bringing competing products, services and concepts to a free market place where consumers can decide which product or service serves them the best.
In a totalitarian economy the government decides what products will or won't be made available to the citizens. When institutions shut down competing ideas, they become totalitarian.
President Kennedy once said that we should never fear to negotiate, but we must never negotiate out of fear. The same can be said of debate. Adversaries of debate and discourse are acting out of fear. They fear that if obverse opinions are made available to large numbers of Americans, that the shortcomings of their ideas would be exposed and consequently rejected.
Indeed, they fear that they will not be able to defend their positions on a host of issues including. Immigration, my area of particular concern, is only one of many such topics, but it is a profoundly important topic because of the way that it impacts so many other challenges and threats we face.
However, the efforts to shut down debate is contrary to our Constitution and our tradition of free speech. Shutting down debate and discourse is flat-out anti-American.
This year the violent demonstrations that have accompanied the Trump political rallies around the United States brought that conversation into particular focus and was the topic of a recent video talk: Memorial Day and Celebrating the First Amendment.
The violent demonstrations have sought to intimidate people to interrupt the process by which Americans will determine who the next President of the United States will be. The violent demonstrations are not examples of people exercising their freedom of speech but of thugs who seek to deny others their right to peaceably assemble.
As I have watched the violent demonstrators at Trump political rallies, and watched the totalitarian dictates of university professors quash freedom of speech on campuses that should encourage the free flow of ideas, especially competing ideas, I found myself thinking back to that luncheon meeting with that Israeli police general and his comments about how Americans have come to see in Memorial Day the opportunity to purchase towels and sheets at lower prices and have a barbecue as a way commemorating the sacrifices of our soldiers.
This is insulting and infuriating. This is certainly not what motivated our soldiers to go in harm's way.
I was struck by an idea: wouldn't it be far more meaningful and appropriate that instead of Memorial Day being an excuse to have a day of commerce and linen sales, we had a day of open intellectual commerce where we celebrate our constitutionally-guaranteed right to engage in debate and discourse in the open intellectual market of a truly free nation?
The time has come to turn Memorial Day into a day of debate and discourse across our nation. The free flow of competing ideas may lead to some heated but peaceful arguments, but could also serve to enable Americans of differing viewpoints to come to better understand each other and, who knows, perhaps arrive at reasonable compromises. This is what the democratic process is supposed to be about.
Freedom of speech and all of our other freedoms is, after all, what our soldiers, who took an oath to defend the Constitution, fought and died for.