To honor the fallen soldier on Memorial Day I usually write something about what the day means to me. I talk about why we should honor folks who serve and give their lives. Today, thanks to a brief Facebook back and forth, I’d like to do something slightly different. Rather than discuss the day or talk about the reasons it is so important to honor our fallen soldiers, I’d like to show why we honor them, by way of comparison.
There is a mindset that appears to have have little patience for talk about the uniform and those who wear it. With disdain for our past mistakes it speaks of “illegal wars”, “war profits” and the like. It seems to think that honoring the soldier and his or her commitment to service necessarily means one must then, on principle, be a fan of force, or support wars without end, or feel a compulsion to justify wars we have had no business fighting. There is another subset of this mindset. It has little patience for those who wear the uniform. It appears to believe that the men and women who feel the call to serve have some sense of power lust, or have hate in their hearts for those they are ordered to fight, or are lacking in some aspect of self – a lack that they then replace with a ribbon, the power of a gun, and a “thank you, sir” from the cashier at the grocery store.
I’ve never served my country. I’ve not endured months of physical and mental strain while being trained to kill in defense of others. I’ve not donned a uniform, picked up a rifle, and traveled half a world away, knowing that some will hate or blame me for doing so. I can only speak of what I believe.
What I believe is that a soldier is, was and always will be something I am not. Few are. Those who are deserve more than thanks. They deserve the honor that comes with the life they have chosen.
I am not a soldier. I have neither the courage, the will, nor the sense of self that it takes to give my life for complete strangers, let alone for amorphous concepts like honor, discipline, freedom or courage. I know this, so I have no intent of ever demeaning, minimizing, or condemning those who do.
I say sense of self because when one strips away the helmet & boots, the ribbons and the rifle, what you have left is a man or woman who – instinctively – knows his or her self worth, and knows that it is worth fighting for. The soldier knows that life has value and that one’s life has no value if one is not free to live it as one sees fit. The soldier is prepared to give his or her life to serve these values and to defend these values on behalf of others.
The American soldier knows that without the United States of America – without her original intent and without her military – the honoring of these values will be and would have been wiped out of existence. How do we know this? How can we be so sure if we have not served? How can we understand or even guess at a soldier’s intent or what he values? We know by what they do, and by what they say. Unlike most, what a soldier does and what he or she says are, if he or she is true to his training and personal values, inevitably, the same.
Unlike many of us, most soldiers live a consistent life. He or she says they would die for another, and then prepares to do just that. He or she says he will live with honor, willing to take orders even from those with whom he disagrees, and then proceeds to do just that. He or she lives by a code of honesty, in his life and in his commitments. He or she lives a life committed to a set of ideals which, while often betrayed by the very government the soldier is taking orders from, are nonetheless still our founding ideals and are worth protecting.
Unlike myself and most others, the American soldier will live these ideals and will die for them. We know this because they have….repeatedly.
Though our wars have been many, and while most of our wars following our last official war have been fought with little care given for the reasons or for the results, the soldier is willing to fight. The soldier fights not because he or she does not care if those reasons are Just, but because not to fight is to forget. Not to fight is to abandon all the reasons one became a soldier in the first place.
A person is not born a soldier, but rather becomes one. So committed to the idea that his or her life has value, that his or her freedom has value, and that the country that stands for both has value, the soldier is prepared to put everything on the line. He or she is prepared to put his or her life on the line to defend the things which necessitate it’s continuance. The primary thing necessary for its continuance is freedom.
The soldier trains his or her body. The soldier trains his or her mind. The soldier learns the skills that will keep himself and his fellow soldiers alive. The soldier accepts that his buddies come first, because he needs them to stay alive. A soldier accepts that his country comes first, because without it and the freedom it offers, his life will be much, much less. A soldier accepts that even those back home who may hate him come first, because even the lives of the ignorant are valuable, but that in the end the ignorant cannot harm him.
The soldier abandons all thought of his own personal wants, needs or desires which cannot be integrated into the larger cause of being a soldier.There is a word for this. It is called discipline.
He gives up months of his life to brutal training torment. He places his life on the line to answer a call to arms given by men and women who may not always have his or even his nation’s best interests in mind, but have been elected to serve, just as he has chosen to serve. A soldier travels half the world away to live and perhaps die in lands he may not care to live in or act for, but have been chosen by his superiors as being necessary to engage in for the nation’s interest. There is a word for this. It is courage.
Any person who believes for a moment that a soldier does this for a ribbon and a thank you, or for a pension, or for a paycheck, or for hate against a stranger, or for love of force, or for the indignity of being called ‘baby killer’ or ‘fascist’ when he comes home, than that person must be someone willing to give up quite a lot to gain so little.
Though I myself am no soldier, it seems that they give up very little to gain far more. This takes a sense of self few have. Fewer still are willing to put all on the line. This, my friends, is honor. It is rare, it is precious, and is worth defending, even if only in words.
A greater mind than mine observed that “honor is self-esteem made visible in action”.
This morning I had a brief exchange with a gentleman who complained about
“constant praise of our “hero’s” when they are the pawns”
That he placed the word ‘hero’ in quotes is telling. We had been commenting on the soldiers of World War Two, specifically about of the soldiers of D-Day and about the youngest, a mere child of sixteen, who lied about his age in order to serve a cause. This gentleman complained that
“there was a time this was a sign of a patriot now being a zombie is being a patriot.”
His classification of any soldier as a “zombie” demonstrates to me that he has zero clue what a soldier is. It does tell me all I need to know about what HE is.
Regardless of the moral nature of the particular Congress and White House who send them off to battle, or of the nature of the wars we fight, the men and women who choose to serve their country should be supported and encouraged. Men like the one I conversed with will not support them. It takes intellectual honesty. This is sorely lacking in a lot of folks.
Our military have no say in where they go or why they go, only THAT they choose to be soldiers for their country. Their nobility and honor is not tainted by the corruption & cowardice of any particular elected leader. The folks in uniform hate that we send them for corrupt motives or on fools missions, even more than those of us who complain about those missions. They do it anyway. It’s called being a soldier.
Honor is self-esteem made visible in action.
To the men and women who died with honor, and to those live with it: Thank you.