A poem left anonymously on Facebook for Drummer Lee Rigby:
You fought bravely and with honour died,
You leave your family so full of pride,
Sleep well young soldier, your job is done,
Your war is over, your battle won.
Our family chain is broken and nothing is the same,
But as God takes us one by one,
Our chain will link again.
He was not killed by an IED or burst of machine gun fire in Afghanistan.
He was not killed while carrying out a training mission or any other operation related to his profession as a soldier.
He was brutally, inhumanly slaughtered for simply being a soldier, in daylight, in the capital city of what used to be the dominant power on earth.
Lee Rigby was slaughtered because he is you and me.
Memorial Day here in the States is about remembering with acute gratitude those who stood in the breach against foreign powers and lost their lives staring down those who would do us harm or wish to oppress us. We have been fortunate that since the War of 1812 we have not faced such an invasion on our own soil.
But the attack on Lee Rigby hits as close to home as possible without being here at home. Britain, after all, is that country that planted the seeds in the New World for this New Colossus to spring up and flourish—our history had been theirs, our culture and Christian roots came from them. Who cannot remember the scene of Britons weeping at the gates of Buckingham Palace while the band played the Star Spangled Banner during the changing of the guard on September 12, 2001?
The attack on Lee Rigby was an attack on all of us in the West, and in a way, it was more personal and brutal than the mass slaughter of 9/11/01: while the body count was higher, those were faceless planes piloted into faceless buildings, impersonal and symbolic in destruction; this was a man with a face and a voice crying out while being hacked to pieces personally by other men with faces of malice, using their voices to shout their Allahu akbar, personal and spiteful in murder.
The man with bloody hands and the tools of murder—a large knife and a meat cleaver—claimed it was in retaliation for the killing of Muslims in Afghanistan. But 1) more Muslims have died at the hands of other Muslims than at the hands of non-Muslims, 2) the military operations in Afghanistan are largely intended to protect Muslims from other Muslims, and 3) if that were truly his motivation and he were not a coward he would sign up to fight against the British Army on the battlefield in Afghanistan rather than surprise and overwhelm a defenseless soldier walking down the street in London.
No, this was intended to strike at the heart of what it is to be Western.
And what a classically Western target they randomly chose: a young, energetic, charismatic, devoted, loving father, husband, son, and brother.
His last text to his mother was, “Goodnight mum, I hope you had a fantastic day today because you are the most fantastic and one in a million mum that anyone could ever wish for. Thank you for supporting me all these years, you’re not just my mum you’re my best friend. So goodnight, love you loads.”
May we all be able to send such a text to our mothers on any given day.
His sisters mourn the loss of their big brother. His wife and young son are without Dad. His mother and step father lost a cherished and loved son. And we all died there on that street as his life’s blood flowed away.
But Memorial Day means not only remembering the loss of those who have died in our stead, it also means examining our own story, purifying our motives and cleaning our own homes so that they will not have died in vain, and rededicating ourselves to defending the noble ideals for which they fought and died.
This is what Ingrid Loyau-Kennet did when she withstood the attackers to their faces, at the peril of her own life, to protect the body of the young soldier from further desecration. Motivated by her Catholic Christianity, the font and guiding star of Western life, this unarmed woman refused to leave the dangerous situation until “professionals” arrived, even asking the attackers if they would calm down and give the weapons to her.
For Mrs. Loyau-Kennet and the rest of us the task of Memorial Day and the rest of our Western lives is not merely to bury and think fondly of Drummer Rigby, those who sleep in Flanders Fields, and all others who have died in our stead, but to take up the torch, ensure it burns brightly and virtuously, casting out the darkness of error, corruption, and national sins, and bear it forth to all we meet, both domestically and in other places, withstanding those who would demand we dim our flame, compromise our noblest ideals, and abandon the Faith that must animate our societal life.
Have a blessed Memorial Day, and may God’s peace and mercy rest upon all who have fought and died for truly noble causes larger than themselves.