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Friday, May 26, 2006 | I have been viewing from afar the drama of the cross on Mount Soledad.
Being a practical and temporal sort (not always a strength – I’ll admit), and not easily inclined to the theater of this type of moment, I have been reluctant to wade in. I’m probably like almost all of you reading this.
But, there is a perspective I think has gone missing. Here it is: this monument means more historically than it does in real time. That is because our time is very different than when it was founded. And, we do not have a sense of that time – or, an appreciation of the importance of it.
And, perhaps most difficult, we need to live in our time, even if we know it fails our past and promises a no better sense of our future.
First, let’s talk about where we are. The cross case has been going on for more than a dozen years. It has consumed millions of dollars from a city barely able to fake its way through budgets that do not deal with, much less pay for, the immediate needs of the community.
It looks like we are on track to continue that path.
Second, we need to look at the platform we are dealing with. The cross issue, as we have managed it in the past (and perhaps it could have been done better in the past), has been determined to be not consistent with Constitutional principals by a federal judge. For those not court literate, you need to understand that the federal judicial system is, in general, considered the major leagues. These few judges and magistrates in this district are generally reviewed as remarkable folks, put to painful extremes before appointment, to ensure the right balance of judgment and courage to do the right thing in the face of easier and more political options.
In this case, the sense is that Judge Gordon Thompson might personally be inclined to rule the other way if it was up to his personal preferences, but did not because he could not. I believe that to be the case. This is not a kooky federal judge. That is what is so cool about federal judges. This is what is so cool about the federal court system. It’s why so many of the tough decisions happen there.
Third, we need to recognize that this is about our time. We are all in it, so why not at least acknowledge the impact of that element?
You have to recall, if you can, the histories that led to the creation of war memorials. Here is one of my WWII favorites from W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, “A Razor’s Edge:”
“I remember going to mass on ‘All Saint’s Day,’ which the French called the ‘Day of the Dead…’ It was filled with soldiers and women in black. In the graveyard were rows of little wooden crosses and as the sad, solemn service went on, the women and men wept too…And I remember…seeing a pile of dead French soldiers heaped upon one another …because they were of no use any more. I thought then…the dead look so awfully dead.”
The same could just as easily have been said for other non-Christian soldiers and religious symbols marking the losses of non-Christian men and women, who would only be remembered for just another brief moment before being lost to the ages. They certainly are remembered by their families and communities from whom they came and sacrificed in such extraordinary measure.
The religious support systems of that day were a part of the reality of that time. But, no more.
Those times happened. The little crosses in France were real. Lots of other soldiers were buried on those days and at those times, and no one objected to the crosses, or Stars of David, or whatever’s.
But, we do not live in those times.
We have forgotten those times, and the laws have not preserved the importance of those memories. This is not the fault of the federal judges that apply the laws. This is where we have gone as a nation.
Today’s laws reflect today’s national values. I believe Judge Thompson applied the law correctly, whether he approved of it or not.
The law today apparently does not allow for this type of symbolism. If 500,000 Americans had recently died in a world war, we might be in another frame of mind. There might be more social acceptance of religious symbols of both Christian and other denominational religions.
And, perhaps they all would be found objectionable to some at a later date after the conflicts were resolved. But, that did not happen, and that is not the case here.
If the city can convince the federal government to condemn the cross property for the obvious purpose of saving the cross, fine. I’ve got to tell you, I’m not exactly certain how that works.
But, if not, then we need to comply with the rule of law and not blame the judge or the federal court system. The laws of this nation are our laws.
Unless changed, we live by them – because that is the who of who we are. It is, in some sense, the reason why we historically have fought foreign wars in the first place.
Pat Shea, a local attorney and businessman, has served on numerous city boards and commissions. Agree with him? Disagree? Send a letter to the editor.