The shadow soldiers

"... The best things in life are beyond money; their price is agony and sweat and devotion... and the price demanded for the most precious of all things in life is life itself- ultimate cost for perfect value."
-- Lt. Colonel Jean V. Dubois, excerpted from Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

One of the many things that sets this country apart from any other that I've visited or lived in is the way in which Americans regard soldiers. Most European countries, with the very notable exception of Great Britain, have generally forgotten what it means to fight wars. They believe that they have become too sophisticated, too evolved, too progressive, to contemplate something so barbarous and primitive as warfare. Then, too, they do not have the kind of love of liberty that Americans seem to be born with- though I would argue that this instinct is nominal at best these days.

As a result, soldiers in those nations are regarded as at best a distraction, at worst a dangerous burden.

Not so here.

Here, soldiers are treated with respect and honour, revered for their sacrifices and their courage. Here, despite the miserable salaries and even more miserable treatment that they endure at the hands of their own government, the military is strictly a volunteer force. Here, men can still earn the right to be American citizens by serving a term in the nation's military. And here, Americans still know what it is to fight, to bleed, to suffer, and to die for what they believe in.

For Americans, rightly or wrongly, still believe in their freedoms, and they still believe that some things are beyond price. Perhaps uniquely among all the peoples of this world, they still believe that some things are worth dying for.

For many people in this country, today is not really a day for reverence and contemplation. It's a day of joy and happiness as we watch those we love graduate from university. (That is true in my case, anyway.) In spite of this, I ask that you spare a few moments of this beautiful day to honour the fallen... and to pray that no more may fall fighting in wars that are increasingly long, increasingly pointless, and have little or nothing to do with preserving American freedoms and everything to do with interfering in the politics and policies of other nations.

As I have made clear before, I categorically disagree with the wars that this country now fights. Sending young men to fight and die on foreign shores, while hobbled with absurdly restrictive rules of engagement and burdened with utterly idiotic peacekeeping missions, is NOT the way to preserve a nation's blood and treasure. Overstretching the military by fighting 5 wars simultaneously is beyond absurd. Turning the military into a "kinder, gentler" peacekeeping force, instead of using it for what it should be used- that is, killing people and breaking things- saps the morale and strength of this most precious and most vital of institutions.

For all that, though, today of all days, let us give respect and honour to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, in all of the bloody and terrible battlefields throughout all of the long history of this nation's wars. Let us remember, quietly and reverently, those who fought, so that we do not have to.


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