Monday, May 31, 2010

What Would You Die For?

Today is Memorial Day, and once again President Obama has fumbled the duties of his office. In some ways this should not surprise anyone; a man who fails to understand that the President of the United States - as the elected leader of a democratic republic - must never bow to anyone because this would symbolically subordinate the people he represents to a foreign power, would not grasp the significance of honoring our fallen heroes. But in some ways it is truly baffling how President Obama misses such obvious truths. The man rose to power precisely because he understands the power of symbols and gestures, words and timing. But perhaps he fails to grasp the importance of Memorial Day. Perhaps President Obama thinks that the uniforms, parades, and imagery are superficial and it doesn’t matter whether he, as President, is even there in person. Strange as that may sound, it could be that many people do not understand sacrifice, honor, and valor. After all, we do not often think of death, and few among us would be willing to lay our lives down for any reason if we had a choice.

Life has a certain calculus to it. We make choices all the time, based on a simple evaluation of whether the cost is justified by what we get in return. So, we go to school because we receive education, we work hard at our jobs because we hope for good wages and rewards. We build for the future, but always the decision is based on something like ‘do without this now, get something better later’. Enlightened self-interest, perhaps. But the soldier does not operate by such rules. He risks his safety and life for purposes which seldom benefit him directly at all, and often our veterans give up not only comforts and conveniences to do a hard, risky job, but many take permanent injury for a nation who too often thinks they are not due anything more than a small decoration and a few medical benefits. Many of the veterans from the Revolutionary, Civil, World, Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf Wars suffered significant financial losses and permanent disabilities for their service. And that does not touch the cost of the dead.

I have some passing acquaintance with death. Not just the death of family and friends, I mean the personal consideration of my own demise. In 2006, a less-than-fully-informed oncologist told my wife that I probably would not live another year. I was fortunate to find much better medical care and advice, but at the time it also reminded me that there were responsibilities to meet, just in case I could not be there for my family as long as I would like. It’s sobering to have to look at your life in sum, and consider whether you have really done anything which mattered, or made a difference in someone’s life. The soldier never has to seriously worry on that count, but the consideration of death is far more imminent and real for him than for the civilian. The Fort Hood shootings remind us that simply being in uniform can make you a target for a monster, and those who serve on active duty in the Middle East cannot take anything for granted. It is a difficult burden to carry every day, yet far too few Americans consider that everyone in the military is a volunteer, and combat forces are built from men who choose to risk their lives because they believe in the cause and their team. The soldier thinks on a different level from the civilian, and his ideals are sharper in focus and far more substantial because he understands the cost he may have to pay for them. Whether Marine, Army, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard, the American soldier lives a life of idealism far more authentic than anything most people can imagine. For the American soldier, Memorial Day is not about the uniform or the flag, but his buddies and the meaning they all believe and live by. For the American citizen, Memorial Day should be about recognizing a price paid by our soldiers that most of us have never seriously had to consider facing in our own lives. The burden, not only of fighting wars declared by politicians but protecting American citizens and interests the world over, and establishing the footholds of real freedom in places that have never known it before, and would never know it but for the bravery and valor of men from common community but rare caliber, is carried in daily service by more than a million men in arms, most of whom will never receive even a fair portion of the honor and reward they deserve, and some of whom will be maimed or die at an age far too young for the fortitude of their hearts and the injustice of their loss haunts at anyone who considers the cost paid by such men against the callous disregard by Congressmen, Senators, and self-serving cowards who think it meet for brave men to take up the challenge they would never themselves be willing to face. It is vital for us, the American people, to remember our veterans and what they have done for us, and on Memorial Day face the cost they pay, in blood, sweat, and tears, on our behalf.

Semper Fidelis!

Semper Paratus!

This We’ll Defend!

Non Sibi Sed Patriae!

Above All!

Thank you, Veterans! We the people owe you more than our treasury can pay, more than our media ever thinks about, and more than these occasional parades and passing tributes, but this nation is made by you and your ancestors and your progeny, and we thank you for your valor, sacrifice, and honor. May America always find such men, and may God grant us never forget you or your work!