The Last Full Measure of Devotion
It’s not about patriotism, flag waving, or bragging that our causes were just. It’s not about a long holiday from work to grill and drink beer and celebrate our freedom to feast. In the press of more “modern” times, as we slowly shift from coming to the aid of conquered peoples to opposing hostile ideologies, protecting our access to foreign natural resources, aiding corporate interests, dealing with the blowback of covert missions, and projecting power, it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify those sparse periods of peace that we incessantly claim to be fighting for. There can be no doubt that evil people engineer suffering and misery on a massive scale, to their own ends. There can be no doubt that those who are capable have the moral obligation to protect those who cannot protect themselves, in order to lessen injustice and suffering.
But let us not forget that more is at risk in our political and national decisions than troop casualties. “It’s a hell of a thing to take away all that a man has, or ever will have,” at least on this side of the plane of existence. And it’s a hell of a thing to do so merely from the desire to teach others a lesson, to exact revenge, to protect profits, or from the desire to sound like a more patriotic American than the next guy, when it isn’t our own necks that pass over the chopping block. It is easy to send others to fight when we ourselves appear to be entirely out of harm’s way. Yet, our loss is more than a soldier, a fact which is painfully obvious even to children, but which we adults learn to put out of our minds, so that the next call to sacrifice can come a little easier. It should not become easy, and the rallying cry should seldom be heard in what used to be called a peace-loving nation.
The next time you hear one of our elected representatives evoke an indignant patriotic fervor, demanding support for yet another military incursion, police action, or vague, unspecified activity, ask yourself whether it is his own son he will so eagerly send to armed combat, or yours. Is it to benefit and protect those in desperate straits, or more to oppose and punish those whom we have been encouraged to hate? The “warrior mentality” may be needed by those in the field to survive, but turned loose outside of it, it brings only “wars and rumors of wars”. Armed combat becomes the new norm. Warfare is the only political activity that has been largely (but not completely) free of that worn mantra, “It’s for our children.” As the picture at the top of this post reveals, there’s a sound reason for that. This is the official day to honor those who gave more than their only lives in service to our nation and our people. Let us do so, remember them, and carefully hesitate to throw more loss their way without thoughtful deliberation, for the casualty list will always be longer than the final tally suggests.