UPDATE: In this thoughtful comment, friend Lynn Ochberg finds the image in this post lacking.
Jeff, I love your passion but please be careful of your notions. A promissory note is different from a check. MLK spoke of the Constitution creating a promissory note promising everyone equal rights, etc. If our vets wrote a blank check, as you suggest, it technically means that the vets are the ones who owe whatever the USA filled into the blank. Your metaphor doesn’t work.
It is the promissory note implied in the Constitution that is owed to the vets: in this case, honor and appropriate care and rehabilitation for all who gave of themselves in military uniforms or as family members of those in uniforms.
A pair of paragraphs that often get lost in the annual recounting of Martin Luther King’s iconic “I have a dream” speech talks about the unredeemed promises the country had not kept to its black citizens:
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
The march’s was not a mistake. As the late civil rights leader noted in his address, it took place exactly a century after the Emancipation Proclamation purported to set them free.
Yet 100 years later that was still note the case throughout the country-a development that prompted King to speak about the “fierce urgency of now.”
I thought of King’s address and the concept of the uncashed check yesterday while reflecting on the Honor For All rally I attended on Saturday with fellow Dart Society members.
Like the fabled march that took place at the Lincoln Memorial, this one also took place in the nation’s capital near one of the symbols of political power (The rally Saturday was held on the Senate side of the Capitol building.).
And as in 1963, a stream of speakers, whether veterans or spouses or psychiatrists or workers in non-profit organizations, delivered a consistent message: those valiant men and women who have served the nation by putting their bodies on the line in the various branches of our military signed a blank check to the country that needs to be redeemed.
The need is even greater, if, as so many people noted, they sustained wounds that can not be seen because they are internal, not external, but are no less real for being less visible.
To their credit, top army brass attended the event and stated the programs that are in place to help redeem that check.
Yet according to a number of the speakers like Kristina Kaufmann, an army wife who described and named three of her friends, wives, who had killed themselves due to the changes in their husbands after their return from overseas combat, is that it is not enough.
In other words, the check they have received is marked, “insufficient funds.”
For many of the people at the rally, speaking out about their pain, and that of their families, meant going against key parts of their codes in which they had been raised:
You don’t question authority.
Asking for help is a sign of weakness.
Men don’t talk about emotions.
But somehow speaker after speaker found within themselves the courage and the strength to overcome whatever inhibitions they may have felt and to make the call, as Dr. King did nearly 50 years ago, that they had not yet received their due in honor and just recognition.
I do not know what will happen with the group’s effort to gain the recognition they seek, in their drive to receive a check with sufficient funds.
But I do know one thing.
They’ll be back next year.
Tom Mahany will make sure of that.
He didn’t leave DC until he had looked into booking the same spot next year.
It’s June 27.
Put it down.
And we’ll see both about these veterans’ dream and the checks they’ve received.