Starting in 2002, I’ve posted some comments on each Veterans’ Day.
There is a consistent theme in these posts.
A big part of it is rediscovering patriotism; learning how it’s possible to be a liberal and a patriot at the same time.
I don’t seem to have a problem with that; others do.
Today is the perfect day to think about patriotism. Why?
Because the question of the day is simple – what does it mean to be a patriot?
What it means is simple; it is to owe a patrimony to those who came before you, which you must repay to those who come after.
It is an obligation each of must take on and fulfill in our own ways; one beauty of our system is that the check for repaying the debt is a blank one that we fill in for ourselves (although yes, it’s less and less so).
Who do we owe for this debt?
We owe all kinds of people; not just soldiers, but those who risked and sacrificed to explore new lands, to build roads, dams, and cities, to study and learn and teach, to farm and mine and cook and craft.
But it is to soldiers we owe the greatest debt.
Why? Because what it means to be a soldier is to place yourself completely in jeopardy in our name. Soldiers do not only risk their physical self – firefighters and police officers do that every day – they risk their moral self. They are asked to – ordered to – do things that strain the boundaries of civilization and sometimes bleed across them.
They see things that would leave most of us mute and frozen, and act when every instinct tells them to hide.
And so something hardens around their hearts.
Yes, not all soldiers are combatants, and yes this is not true even of everyone in combat. But when my son stepped into the recruiter’s office two years ago, my fear was not for his body, but for his soul. I worry less today about the physical risks he took today over in Afghanistan, and more about what the bearing of those risks every day will mean to him as he comes back.
This isn’t an ‘oh those poor veterans and their PTSD’ discussion, although PTSD is doubtless a symptom of what I’m talking about. It’s about the burden of being a soldier and what it costs.
And knowing about that price – that price which was paid by every soldier in human history, and is first told in Odysseus’ long journey home from battle to hearth, from warrior to patriarch – we should each of us appreciate what it means to be a soldier, and what we owe them today.
I know that our military has a high ‘tail to tooth’ ratio, and I know that Catch 22 may be one of the truest novels about the military that has ever been written. Not all soldiers are heroes, or even placed where we expect heroism will be called for.
But as we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan and a recruiting station in Little Rock now at Fort Hood, there really are no more front lines, and troops who load copiers may find themselves facing enemies who have loaded guns.
And I know that we live in a world where people believe – as a fantasy – that it is possible to wage war without moral stain.
Grim once wrote something that made exactly this point, and while I read it, I truly didn’t understand it until today. It concluded:
“We can only do,” I must warn her, and you. “We can only do, and pray, that when we are done we may be forgiven.”
Today, on Veteran’s Day, we forgive them, and thank them for their sacrifices. not only the scars we see – but most of all, for the ones we don’t.
So thanks, veterans. Thanks soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen. Thanks for doing your jobs and I hope you all come home hale and whole, every one of you.
One way you can thank veterans is to donate to Project Valour-IT and assist wounded veterans…just sayin’