Next week on Veterans Day, we will remember those who served and fought in our wars to protect the rights and freedoms we take for granted today. To understand the true meaning of this commemoration, we must ask ourselves who are the veterans and why they are different from those of the civilian population.
This quote from CS Lewis describes the military experience so well. âEverything we fear from all kinds of adversities, individually, comes together in the life of an active duty soldier. Like disease, it threatens pain and death. Like poverty, it threatens poor housing, cold, heat, thirst and hunger. Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice and arbitrariness. Like exile, it separates you from all that you love. Like the galleys, it imprisons you in melee with unfriendly companions. He threatens all temporal evil, all evil except dishonor and final perdition. … “
For our soldiers, time spent in the military is probably the defining event in their lives. It marks who they are and what they become. Basic training is a process that has been perfected over thousands of years. It is designed to break up the individual, that person who is focused on their own well-being. At some point, they realize that they can’t do it on their own. They need to start relying on their comrades. From that moment on, they are âforgedâ into a cohesive unity where the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.
The army lives under a different code. They operate in an environment of “unlimited liability“. If they fail in their duty, they do not lose their jobs and file for bankruptcy. They lose everything, including their lives and the lives of those around them.
As a result, they develop an intimacy of relationships which cannot be probed by those who have not experienced it. How do you describe the love of another person so great that you would sacrifice your life for them – without even thinking about it (and them for you)?
How many people would join this agreement? And yet we have brave souls who have done it – and they still do.
Philosopher John Stuart Mill summed it up well. âWar is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The dilapidated and degraded state of moral and patriotic sentiment that thinks nothing beats war is much worse. The person who has nothing they are ready to fight for, nothing more important than their own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free if not made and maintained by the efforts of men better than himself.
We honor those who made these efforts. They raised their right hands and said, âI solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies. … “
In doing so, they reaffirmed what our Founding Fathers said when they signed the Declaration of Independence. They made a commitment to each other and to the citizens of our great country their lives and their sacred honor.
Yes, they promised their lives – and all the dreams, hopes and aspirations they had for their future. They were ready to put it all aside, whatever they could be, for us!
I was one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who during the Cold War stood like a trap wire to what at the time seemed to be a very real possibility of Soviet forces invading the West. We had already been to the precipice during the Cuban Missile Crisis. For decades, we have guarded the border. In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and I couldn’t help but think that we had won my war.
I had a son on the way and I believed he would grow up in a safer world. Their generation deserved more, and the efforts of my generation had made this a reality. Unfortunately, I ended up finding out that it was a naÃ¯ve idea.
In less than two years, we were at war with an Iraqi tyrant in Kuwait. The ânew world orderâ has turned into chaos. One crisis after another has worked across the world. Malevolence was reborn from the Balkans to Somalia.
It is so with each generation.
Our “Doughboys” back from the Great War must have thought they had driven back the savages. Their was the war to end all wars. He does not have.
In just over two decades, Hitler had brought the free world to its knees. Pearl Harbor reminded us that the enemy was literally on our shores.
It took the “greatest generation” to restore stability. They must have thought that their sacrifices really made the world safe for democracy. They do not have.
The September 11 attacks reminded us that the barbarians are still at the door. We have sent our soldiers back to the fringes of empire in Afghanistan and Iraq to protect our civilization.
Many of those who fought in the global war on terror have been deployed multiple times, far from their families and loved ones.
One can only imagine the impact these long deployments had, with the attendant trauma these soldiers endured in combat. Is it that hard for us to understand how this could affect their mental health?
Do we really wonder why our soldiers return home so differently from when they leave? They carry memories that they may wish to forget but cannot. Often these are experiences that only another soldier can understand.
We have âleftâ Afghanistan, an event which, in the minds of many veterans of that war, undermined the justification for their sacrifice.
Does anyone really believe that the threats to our freedom have diminished? There will always be evil in the world. It’s a constant battle to keep it from overwhelming the civilized world. Bullies will always knock on the door of freedom. The safety of each group depends on the efforts of a previous group. The next generation will never be safe without the sacrifices of the previous one.
We should always be grateful for the blessing given to us by the sacrifices of our predecessors. Since our foundation, some proud people have always resisted those who would like to harm us.
Fortunately, we still have brave men and women to stand guard.
May God grant peace to those who gave their lives for us, watch over those who serve now, and bless those who did so in the past.