The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Posts Tagged ‘courage’

Memorial of freedom’s sacrifice

This Memorial Day, I heard several people suggest that to honor those who served in combat honors war itself, and that perhaps we should not. I would like to take a moment to publicly dispute this.

They suggest that perhaps if we spent as much time working for peace as we do preparing for war, we would all be better off. It would seem there are those who still believe there aren’t and down through history never has been people who don’t want to work for peace, but for domination. There comes a point where you can’t talk to those people. There was no talking to King George, as Ben Franklin eventually came to believe and advise. There came a point where there was no talking to the folk who felt the need to own other people in this country, as gentle a man as Abraham Lincoln came to realize. Stalin, Hitler, Emperor Hirohito, Ho Chi Minh, Osama bin Laden…there’s a long list. At some point our freedom has been threatened by these people who didn’t fail to understand reason or respect for others rights, they simply had no interest in it.

I don’t use freedom as a patriotic catchphrase to be bandied around with a flag tied to it. I mean the right to determine our style of government, our right to raise our children with our own beliefs, not those of the state, our right to choose within the confines of personal circumstances our occupation, religious belief, the very location of our home. It is our freedom that allows us to change those things if opportunity, conviction, and desire motivate us. These are our freedoms, and it is these that were threatened. Many consider these freedoms trivial. I believe they think this way because that freedom has never been genuinely threatened or restricted, and the reality of life without them is too far away for most to give serious thought to, what with the joys or pains of the moment in front of us. But there are those amongst us who, when called upon, are capable of seeing a little further, and have acted upon the need to be prepared for our defense against those who would deny us those freedoms. We have set aside one day in a year to celebrate the foresight and sacrifice it has taken for us to remain free.

The people who have been in combat know a secret that is hard to live with. They realize that in spite of all the skill, or equipment, or training – often it comes down to odds that can only be influenced in small ways, and the guy they were just standing next to died because some guy across the battlefield just happened to target him. That guy didn’t die because he was a lesser man, but because he, and everyone else, volunteered to place themselves in the way of this possibility for a cause they felt was that important. Chance did the rest.

It is hard to live with this, because most men in combat have seen others act in a way that makes no sense to the common world – they’ve seen men take actions that endanger themselves in order to protect those around them. In some of the worst of human conditions some of the best human traits come to the surface to meet the need. And every man that’s been in combat and not died comes away wondering, somewhere in the back of his mind, why it wasn’t he that was killed, but some other guy. We wonder if perhaps that guy was more worthy, more courageous – if maybe that other guy died because we didn’t do enough- and we remember it for the rest of our life. We do this despite the abject fear we sometimes saw in that man’s eyes, the fear-driven anger, things that are ugly, and not comfortable talking about. We still wonder in the aftermath if that man was more worthy than us. Memorial day is one day for these men to share this pain of survival with others, to give those who were safe at home a moment’s glimpse into what it takes to maintain this way of life, and most importantly, to honor the men we had the opportunity to see at their best when no one else could. It seems most people don’t believe it takes armed conflict. It seems much of our society believes armed soldiers are bloodthirsty animals looking for prey. Memorial day is a moment for us to realize that most of those who have been in combat were not looking for blood, and expected no glory, on the day when our companions died. On that day when battle plans are executed, men feel fear because they do not want to be killed, nor do they want to kill. And yet, to protect the society they support, it must be done, and this is that day.

Most everyone prefers peace. But once in a while, someone who will not be satisfied with peace comes along, and needs defending against. We don’t have a memorial day for those people. We have a memorial day for those who picked up a weapon and defended his home against them, regardless of the danger. We don’t celebrate the brash young man who left home with his rifle to kick some butt yelling “yee-hah!” down the road in a cloud of dust. We celebrate the courage of a young man who got to battle, and learned quickly that there was more to it than that, that his glory came second to the survival of his group, and who, in the end, got his butt kicked defending them. We celebrate that transformation from brashness to complete sacrifice. And through that example we wish for more courage ourselves to face the need for sacrifice in living each day in our hard-won freedom, seeking peace.