The Long Embrace
I'm sorry I wasn't able to write about this earlier when it would have been more appropriate. It is a rare thing for me when the words just won't come, but this Veteran's Day was one of those times. For some reason it just hit a little too close to home this year.
I often get the impression the anti-war crowd somehow envision military folks as being mindlessly gung-ho. They seem to think we go around in some hyperadrenalized state, all pumped-up about killing: that we're oblivious to the human cost of what we're doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. We live with that cost every day. It is not possible for us to forget.
I often fear our modern society has become blind to the costs of the way we live: of our security, our freedoms, our affluence. We think of these things as our birthright; many of us no longer realizing they were bought and paid for with the blood of men whose deeds now shine brightly only in the dusty pages of history books that lie, mostly forgotten, in dark corners while we salivate over the latest episode of American Idol or Survivor. Those are our heroes, nowadays. And we stand by and allow men who have never paid the awful price of war to abuse and shame them, using freedoms paid for in their blood. I do not suggest that they should be prevented from speaking. That would be a betrayal of the ideals we all believe in. But I often wonder why we are so slow to defend those who have so long and so bravely defended our rights?
How is it that we keep forgetting the lessons of history? This naivete is nothing new. For generations, short-sighted men have longed, against all evidence, for an end to war:
In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as Armistice Day, commemorating the end of hostilities in "the war to end all wars." That was a lofty prediction but one that history would soon prove to be wishful thinking. The Great War became known as World War I when World War II followed just a generation later. Our military death toll multiplied fourfold, with more than 400,000 giving their lives in World War II. In 1954, Armistice Day became Veterans' Day, honoring American veterans of all wars.
America tried the isolationist path in the early 20th Century. Wearied by the crushing losses of our own bloody War Between The States, we wanted no more of fighting, especially on foreign shores. But in the nuclear age, isolationism is a path no longer open to us. We cannot seal ourselves off against all dangers foreign and domestic. The invading army or fleet, visible from afar, is a thing of the past. War can now come to us in a jumbo jet, a suitcase bomb, a vial, or strapped to the chest of a misguided teenager dreaming of glory in the afterlife. And yet there are those who would have us hide our heads in the sands and hope danger doesn't find us: hope against hope that men so threatened by harmless schoolgirls that they think nothing of sawing their heads off will somehow show clemancy to the most powerful nation in the world. A nation they have sworn to bring to its knees.
Where does this foolish hope come from? It is certainly not supported by history. Mike Rosen comments:
As a free and tolerant nation we accommodate pacifists and respect their right to oppose war on religious grounds, granting them exemption from combat service. But we don't honor them, nor should we. As George Orwell once noted, "To abjure violence is a luxury which a delicate few enjoy only because others stand ready to do violence in their behalf." So U.S. Marines died on Iwo Jima so that pacifists could sing Kumbaya in safety. Warriors are essential; pacifists are a luxury.
A couple of weeks ago, much was made by anti-war activists and their media sympathizers of the 2,000th American military death in Iraq over the last two and a half years. Our losses on Iwo Jima were 22,000 wounded and 6,821 killed in action in just five weeks. Every one of those deaths was a personal tragedy and a national loss. But the first was no more or less honorable or significant than the last - or the 2,000th.
About 3,000 Americans were slaughtered on Sept. 11, 2001, in a matter of hours. Many more Americans - military and civilian - will likely be killed over who knows how many more years in this latest world war being waged against civilized society and modernity by Islamofascist terrorists. How should we be influenced by the body count? At what number should we raise the white flag and surrender - and to whom? And what would be the terms of that surrender?
Jordan did nothing to inflame al Qaeda, yet Jordan was attacked. That, if nothing else, should show reasonable people the nature of the enemy we are fighting. Al Qaeda are not interested in compromise. They will be satisfied with nothing less than complete and utter surrender to their demands. And they do not even have the courage to attack uniformed soldiers in this war. They send children to kill women, children, old men. Wedding guests. These are people who want to wipe Israel off the map - a nation created by the anti-war folks' revered United Nations. A nation whose ancestors were brutalized by Adolph Hitler: a man almost as evil as George Bush. It is passing strange how quickly respect for the will of the 'international community' vanishes when the need arises for action.
As General Douglas MacArthur so clearly stated, it is not the soldier who longs for war. But alone of all of us these days, he stands ready when the call comes:
This does not mean that you are warmongers. On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: 'Only the dead have seen the end of war.'
Although Veteran's Day has passed, it is always appropriate to acknowledge the debt we owe those men and women, past and present, who have stood ready to defend this great nation. And as we do, it is also appropriate that we be mindful of the cost, both for those who go to war, and those who remain behind to pick up the pieces:
In the past 12 months, he has seen inside the caskets, learned each Marine's name and nickname, touched the toys they grew up with and read the letters they wrote home. He has held grieving mothers in long embraces, absorbing their muffled cries into the dark blue shoulder of his uniform.
Sometimes he's gone home to his own family and found himself crying in the dark.
When he first donned the Marine uniform, Beck had never heard the term "casualty assistance calls officer." He certainly never expected to serve as one.
As it turned out, it would become the most important mission of his life.
Each door is different. But once they're open, Beck said, some of the scenes inside are inevitably the same.
"The curtains pull away. They come to the door. And they know. They always know," he said.
"You can almost see the blood run out of their body and their heart hit the floor. It's not the blood as much as their soul. Something sinks. I've never seen that except when someone dies. And I've seen a lot of death.
"They're falling - either literally or figuratively - and you have to catch them.
"In this business, I can't save his life. All I can do is catch the family while they're falling."
If you get a moment in your travels this year, please stop, and thank a veteran. We owe them so very much. And never, never forget what we owe. h/t CW4Bill
For John, in memoriam.