The Speech That Should Be

“My fellow Americans:

“On this Memorial Day we remember the many thousands of American men and women who answered the call of their country and gave their lives to preserve and defend the greatest experiment in self-government the world has ever known. We recall and honor their ultimate sacrifice, and as we do so we cannot help but also recall the sacrifices made on the home front by those who were not directly engaged on the front lines, but who nevertheless felt themselves part of a great struggle in which they were called upon to do everything in their power to support the men and women fighting on the field of battle.

“Today we are engaged in another great struggle that tests our character as a nation and as a people. Our adversary does not hate us—for it is not human—and thus it cannot be made to abandon hatred or change its ways. It has no flesh and no face, and thus does not care how similar are the pigments of our skins or the features of our faces. It does not think, and thus cannot be deterred by any rational calculation. The adversary we face today exploits a fundamental characteristic of the human condition—our need for the company and society of other human beings. That need makes us vulnerable to a virus that exploits our social nature to propagate and to kill its hosts.

“It is precisely because we are being attacked at a point of such vulnerability that we must now summon a strength and unity that eludes us in happier, more pacific times. For this virus can only be defeated if we have the strength to persevere in the measures necessary to allow our front-line health care workers to do their jobs without being overwhelmed with new patients. It can only be defeated if we act with the unity of purpose that ensures we Americans not only keep ourselves safe, but that we protect the safety of our neighbors and our communities, as well. It can only be defeated if we understand that we all stand together or we all fall separately.

“Whatever differences we have in happier times do not matter now. Those differences are a luxury of sorts. A people secure in their health and wellbeing may squabble over economic policy or public morality. But a people engaged in a life or death struggle must be singularly focused on survival—their own, that of their neighbors, and that of their larger communities. When the battle for survival is won, we may indulge our grievances and resume our arguments. But for now, we must give meaning and effect to the name our founders gave us. We must be the United States of America.

“Memorial Day calls upon us to remember that our wars were most often fought by people who were not professional soldiers. Often they were not volunteers. Yet, in every conflict, they summoned the courage to overcome the hardships they were called upon to endure, and to surmount the challenges they faced. Not for one moment do I doubt the courage and dedication of our health-care workers who serve on the front lines of our current struggle day in and day out. Often they do so at the cost of their own wellbeing—sometimes at the cost of their lives. Yet they do not falter.

“Americans on the home front have always rallied to support those on the front lines. We have sacrificed our creature comforts and conveniences so that resources could be dedicated to the fight. We have done without because we knew the sacrifice was temporary—but also because we knew that success was vital.

“It is no less vital now. Americans are no less dedicated to victory and no less committed to the proposition that a free and fractious people will close ranks and stand as one when a threat appears from over the horizon. We may gripe about our desire for a haircut, or a manicure, or an evening out. But we know that these are small sacrifices to make so that weary doctors and nurses can end their shifts and return to their families. We may complain about having to wear a face mask, but we know that it is far easier to do so than to keep our national economy closed. We know that we can do these things for each other and for our nation. We know that when we tell our children about the Pandemic of 2020, we want to be able to tell them we did our part.

“I believe in the resolve and compassion of the American people. I believe that as our health care professionals and our state leaders decide how much we can reopen our country, and how fast, we will listen carefully. Together, we will ensure that all are safe and prosperous. Together, we will win this struggle and emerge stronger than before. On this Memorial Day, let us consecrate the sacrifices made by those whom we honor today by rededicating ourselves to the American experiment with a renewed spirit of national purpose and an unflinching commitment to this common cause. Thank you.”

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