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Amazing Sacrifice (Issue #474)
Veterans have their day, as it were, every November 11th. The occasion got its start after World War I and was originally called Armistice Day—commemorating the instrument that ended the main hostilities of the Great War, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Germans signed on to “peace” after four years of bloody carnage and trench warfare. The fact that Veterans Day has its origin in World War I is significant to the topic at hand: the amazing sacrifice of veterans. World War I was so extremely costly and yet achieved little of benefit for either side. Historians will say the end of World War I and the punitive peace that followed, actually laid necessary conditions for the start of World War II and the Holocaust that accompanied the Second Great War.
The Western mind finds it difficult to fathom, let alone to accept meaningless death, or untimely death, particularly the heroic and/or selfless sacrifice of one’s own life for the good of others or in the name of a good cause such as one’s Country. There needs to be a justifiable purpose for the placement of freemen and freewomen into harm’s way, and there must be a formalized memory too of the events that transpire, whenever harm does come their way as it often does. America gives honor to her veterans: to their intent if not always to results in battle, to personal courage and sacrifice, whether unto victory or defeat—and even if and when the political cause of conflict is suspect in hindsight, or the war itself becomes widely regarded as being an utter mistake.
The veteran’s sacrifice is sacred by its nature. His example shines because it was the most he could do or give whenever the nation called, and quite often when our collective wellbeing actually depended upon his standing in the breach. On Veteran’s Day we express our thanks to veterans, and we recognize together the importance of him or her, and by implication the innate importance of every single individual’s existence. The loss of life and limb, even the loss of the time of life or of innocence, is part of that amazing sacrifice made by veterans—for when duty called, all gave some and some gave all on behalf of the Nation in Whose God we Trust.
The motives of men and women vary so much when they volunteer and even when they are drafted. Some enlist out of patriotism, others out of a need to prove and search themselves. Some cite more practical things such as a paycheck, or “three hots and a cot.” For whatever reason, veterans more often than not are proud to make and proud to have made their sacrifice. Few look upon their service with a sense of regret, or go seeking after pity for the time they spent or the hardships they endured. Their friends’ names and faces cause them to regard their own contributions more positively. They honor themselves occasionally, in order to honor them—their experience is always a spotless one where comrades are concerned.
Veterans did what they had to do or felt they were obligated to do, but for those who lived through their experience in uniform, the time they spent in service very often defines them like no other and stamps them with a sense of worth that transcends most other times in their life. Whatever happens to them after (and many veterans go on to do great things), they were nevertheless young and soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and coastguardsmen once! They met or exceeded expectations then and served on quintessential teams, all for greater cause than themselves or for a greater good.
An unexpected conclusion presents itself, and that is that from the standpoint of the veteran and his fellow citizen who may not have served in the same capacity, the veteran’s service constitutes a period of special risk that he uniquely bore. The risk is often seen as generational, sometimes circumstantial or threat based, but no matter whether the risk was slight or substantial, and however one may choose to explain it—in terms of God or Darwin, whatever happens on the veteran’s watch becomes his or her honor to make said sacrifice. The veteran typically doesn’t feel sorry for himself, and he doesn’t think anyone else should either. The honor therefore that we should bestow this Veteran’s Day on him is an external counterpart or show of regard for the amazing record of sacrifice by American veterans over the years—most recently through extended Cold War engagement and the indefinite scope and duration of the Global War on Terrorism with its associated multiple deployments. The honor we give moreover reflects the honor they inwardly felt. It is an odd reciprocal relationship really, this reflection, wherein we bask somewhat in their heroism and selflessness, which helps knit generations together; bridge military and civilians; and keep this ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’ vital and enduring.