A German soldiers' cemetery in France
PRESIDENT Reagan's decision to visit a German military cemetery next month has created a predictable furor. Jewish leaders charge the graveyard visit shows Ronald Reagan is insensitive to the Holocaust. The national commander of the American Legion says the President is making a mistake.
The President believes that the wreath-laying ceremony at a West German graveyard containing the remains of over 1,000 Nazi soldiers killed during World War II will help lead to reconciliation.
My visit to a German cemetery in France convinces me that he is right.
On a recent visit to Mont-St. Michel in France, I saw a road sign for a German graveyard. What is that doing in France, I thought. When a friend suggested we stop to take a look, I at first curtly dismissed him, and only reluctantly relented. Although I was born after World War II, as a child I had learned of Nazi Germany's horrific deeds; because of the war I had a harsh view of Germans: stolid, unfeeling, and willing to do it again if they got the chance.
The German war memorial was small and stark. It consisted solely of a circular, two-tiered bunker. It resembled a gas chamber. Metal nameplates identified the cremated ashes of several thousand Nazi soldiers who died in the futile effort to save the ``thousand-year Reich.'' The monument bore no inscription that might inspire the visitor or comfort the dead. A few German tourists were present. They were visibly shaken. The men were ashen; two women tried vainly to stem their sobs.
Their grief seemed particularly poignant given the criminality of the cause for which their sons died. I now saw Germans as human beings, not as Nazis temporarily out of uniform. The sons and daughters of Nazis are my age: They didn't participate in the war either. Now I could share with them the tragedy that war bears for all. I could experience the burden of the shameful past Germans must confront. To see them cry for their dead, to share their grief, is to love thine enemy and embrace all humanity.
Harry Truman reported that when he had a tough decision to make as President, he would often gaze up at a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and ask: ``What would Lincoln have done?'' We know what Lincoln would have done here. In his second inaugural address, Lincoln promised
``to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him
who shall have borne the battle; and for his
widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve
a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with
Lincoln never got the chance. Forty years after the last European battle of World War II, President Reagan has a chance to help bind up the world's wounds by visiting the German cemetery. He should do so.
James B. Moorhead is assistant United States attorney for the district of Maryland.