I AM TEMPTED TO imagine myself this week as Shakespeare's old King Lear, stumbling across the heath and howling futilely into the storm: "Thou art not more unkind than man's ingratitude."
We are in the process of observing the anniversary of one of the great events in the history of our country and in the history of the world -- the conclusion of World War II and the victory of the democracies over the fascists of Germany and Italy and the militarists of Japan. I cannot imagine what our world would be like if we had lost that war. But, at the minimum, one can fairly say that it is unlikely it would be a better or happier place.
This ought to be, therefore, a joyous and satisfying anniversary. We brought to an end 40 years ago a terrible war -- terrible beyond contemporary comprehension. No one knows precisely how many people died; 100 million is probably as good an estimate as any. This carnage all stopped on Aug. 14 and the human race was given a fresh opportunity to restore itself and the planet we inhabit. It was a glorious day.
But instead of celebrating, this month, we have been engaging -- at least through the popular media -- in endless self-flagellation, a kind of psychological hara-kiri. A child or a visitor from another planet would assume from what has been printed and shown to us by television that World War II consisted of a single event: the dropping, for no earthly reason, of two nuclear weapons on the innocent people of Japan.
It is as if little or nothing had gone before, as if a million of our comrades and many millions of our allies had not fallen in battle in fields and oceans all across the globe in order to bring us peace. The expressions of "bomb guilt" have not reached the stage of on-camera immolations at the White House gate but there have been a funereal tolling of church bells, symbolic acts and demonstrations of contrition and endless footage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It is appropriate to mourn the war dead, whether they died at Hiroshima or Bataan or Stalingrad or Auschwitz or Pearl Harbor. But it is also appropriate to remember and to give thanks for the victory that was won.
What we should be doing this week, all over America, is staging the last, grand parade. There will not be another chance. When the 50th anniversary comes along all but a few of the veterans will be infirm or dead. So we should have assembled the old regiments, brigades and divisions, the crews from the ships of the line, the aviators and submariners.
We should have stuffed ourselves into those old uniforms, pinned on the ribbons and medals, hoisted the battle streamers and stepped out down Pennsylvania Avenue, struggling to keep pace with the bands. We would salute absent friends. We would savor the victory and the peace that it won. We would embrace one another and say our goodbyes. And we would say to our sons and daughters: "For all our defects, the world survives. Now it is yours. Take care of it."
That is the way to celebrate this magnificent anniversary -- not with a whimper but a bang.