Today is the Marine Corps’ Birthday, which is a day every Marine, past and present, celebrates. I entered the Marine Corps on November 11, 1990, and was placed in platoon 1111. We were supposed to form up on the 10th of November, but since that was the Marine Corps’ Birthday, we stood on painted yellow footprints in the airport parking lot for hours, until the bus for us finally arrived, around 1:00 AM on the 11th, to drive us to Boot Camp. I have celebrated every Marine Corps Birthday since.
When I was in the Marine Corps, I learned that all Marines are my brothers and sisters. If I get into a bar fight, all Marines present get into the same fight. It does not matter that I may have served before some of them were born, or that we may look or talk differently. We are Marines, and all Marines are brothers and sisters for life.
Such a thing provides perspective to a young Marine, and it provided perspective to me.
I liken being an American to being a Marine. We are all Americans, and though this society we share may not be perfect, we are all brothers and sisters within it. We share far more in common with one another than we share with anyone else on Earth, and we can only improve our country by multiplying our strengths. We do great harm when we divide our differences instead.
Much of today’s political discourse is designed to divide our differences, and in many cases, we divide around differences that do not even exist. What, for example, is the difference between a black man and a white man, other than the color of their skin? In the Marine Corps, we were all green. We had a common purpose, a common mission, a common ethos, and common beliefs. Do we, as Americans, not have a common purpose, a common mission, a common ethos, and common beliefs?
We used to have commonality. We used to believe in freedom and liberty. We used to believe that the purpose of government is to expand our personal liberties, making us more free. We banded together, not to control one another, but to work on those interests we had in common, such as national defense. As private citizens, we believed that each of us had the right to live our lives however we saw fit, as long as we did not interfere with the rights of others to do the same, and the purpose of government was to ensure that none of us interfered with the rights of others to live their lives as they saw fit.
Each generation is a bridge between worlds. Each generation is given a gift by a past generation, which it must carry forward for a future generation. The gift my generation was given was freedom. I remember celebrating the 4th of July, in 1976, and even as a five year-old child, I understood that I was born free. I cherished the possibility my life represented. I was not the only child watching fireworks on our bicentennial, dreaming of a future in which I was free to do whatever I wanted with my life. I am also not the only Marine, on the Marine Corp’s 242nd birthday, wondering what happened to our national idealism. Which generation dropped the gift?
This is not a time for America to come apart. The Marine in me will not allow that to happen. We need to stop blaming bogymen for our problems and start blaming ourselves. Systems are not racist. Only people can be racist. Institutions are not sexist. Only people can be sexist. Buildings are not homophobic. Only people can be homophobic. There is no national stain to erase, nor any white privilege to reduce. Everything that has ever been done was done by people, and all of the stains are in people. Not only that, but if you are so pro-gay as to be anti-straight, so pro-woman as to be anti-man, or so pro-minority as to be anti-white, you are the very thing you hate about the past, building a bridge the wrong way, carrying not the gift from previous generations forward, but the sins. Some of those who are screaming racism, sexism, homophobism, or some other ism the loudest, are the biggest racists, sexists, etc. etc. etc. that we have. So many of us are so caught up in a fight against injustice as to become unjust ourselves, and those who perpetrate evil in the name of good see not the gifts of previous generations, but only the bridge, which they desire to burn down. Good stewards do not burn; they carry.
We are not a perfect nation today. Some of the most racist among us are more emboldened now than in any time I can remember, and many of those who claim to be against racism are just as racist as are the worst skinheads. When I was a child, we somehow understood that you cannot end racism, sexism, or any other ism, in others. Each of us can only end it in ourselves, and it is through self awareness and self sacrifice that we make our nation a better place. Likewise, we cannot fix the rest of the world: it is only through improving our nation that we can help to improve the world. We must, each of us, look within ourselves at our own sin, and strive to be better. When we see sin in others, we must still show them an example of love and compassion. Love and compassion are like a flashlight on the evil heart, forcing those who hate to look inward. Love dissolves hate.
Hate breeds hate, and hate is the real enemy. In past times, our national sin has been a hatred of the other: other nations, other ethnicities, other ways of life. Somehow, as we have become more tolerant of the other, we have learned to hate ourselves. On this day, the 242nd Marine Corps Birthday, we must endeavor that the only thing to hate, is hate itself.
To my fellow Marines, who either have stood, or currently stand, preserving our freedoms: Happy Birthday!