Monday, May 29, 2017

Musical Monday - Section 60 by Kansas

Section 60 is the part of Arlington National Cemetery where fallen service members from the Afghan and Iraq conflicts are buried. That we should honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to protect the nation is something that should never be in question. The real question one must ask on a day like this is whether the nation they sacrificed for is worthy of their actions.

What should we aspire to? I always think back to a quote from John Adams, writing to Abigail Adams about what he hoped for their children:
I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Painting and Poetry, Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.
Notice what the end goal was: To allow his grandchildren to pursue the arts. Not commerce or the pursuit of money, but rather those things that would endure. What we remember of a culture is their art, their literature, their creations. Adams aspired to have his descendants engage in that endeavor. In a way, all Americans are descended from Adams and the rest of the framers. The aspirations they had for their progeny are the aspirations they had for the nation. And Adams and his contemporaries did put this into action, first by creating a government that they believed would lead to such activities, but also by funding public works of art and architecture to enoble the civic life of the nation and set and example for others to follow.

But what about the intervening years. Surely the aspirations of the United States have changed since then. After all, in the 1920s Calvin Coolidge stated that "the chief business of the American people is business". Except that wasn't his entire quote. Coolidge went on to say:
[T]he accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence, but we are compelled to recognize it as a means to well-nigh every desirable achievement. So long as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not greatly fear it. But it calls for additional effort to avoid even the appearance of the evil of selfishness. In every worthy profession, of course, there will always be a minority who will appeal to the baser instinct. There always have been, probably always will be, some who will feel that their own temporary interest may be furthered by betraying the interest of others.
Coolidge knew, as so many now appear not to, that the mere pursuit of profit should not be the end goal of the life of an American. He knew that for life to have meaning, one must aspire to something greater than just amassing a vast fortune. A vast fortune must be put to some good use, as men like Andrew Carnegie did, who used his fortune to endow libraries and universities. Or as James Smithson did when he left his wealth to be used to create the public museums of the Smithsonian Institution. I'm not saying that we should wait until those who are well-off donate their money to the arts, but I am saying that the notion that it is a patriotic end in itself to be a successful businessman who does nothing but become wealthy is a relatively new one, which would not be recognized by those who founded this nation or those who nurtured and cared for it for most of its life.

Previous Musical Monday: Avengers Theme
Subsequent Musical Monday: Wonder Woman Main Theme

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