This week our nation will be celebrating Veteran’s Day, recognizing and thanking our country’s military. First known as Armistice Day, Veteran’s Day is celebrated on the anniversary of the signing of the armistice ending World War I and was proclaimed by President Wilson on the first anniversary of that famous date of November 11.
As we reflect on the valiant and heroic efforts of the members of our military and publicly thank them for their contributions, I am always struck by one question-what if it were me?
Prior to my generation it seemed like each of the predecessor generations was involved in a conflict that resulted in military service. Starting with the Civil War, even, it seems like every 20-30 years our country has been involved in conflict in which American men and women sacrificed their lives-the Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th century, the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War (conflict) and the Vietnam War. And being a history student, I could read the writing on the wall and I distinctly recall changing into my gym clothes in the locker room while in 10th grade wondering whether the Persian Gulf War would last long enough and be bloody enough that I would get the call.
Like every other American male, on my 18th birthday I registered with the Selective Service and I carried that card with me everywhere I went until I turned 35… at which point I breathed a long-held sigh of relief. But from the day I turned 18 until January 22, 2011, it was never that far from my mind that I might get the call.
Sure I stayed in school, got a higher degree, got married and had kids, all of which (I believed) would exempt me from service, but I knew that if it got bad enough, I could get the call to serve.
So the question I ask myself-would I have been able to do it? And with Veteran’s Day upon us and a deep and truehearted thank you to all of our veterans, I am again thinking about the call that never came.
Despite being a litigator and a life-long competitor on the ball-field, I have never considered myself a fighter. I have fired a gun a few times, but I prefer to use the guns at the shooting gallery than on the range or, worse yet, on another human being.
I definitely consider myself lucky. I have family members who have served and who continue to serve and I don’t know that I could express to them well enough the level of awesomeness that I feel about what they do and the sacrifice they have made and continue to make.
But I doubt that I could do it myself. Above all else, I value my life and being able to share that life with my family and I would find it very difficult to put that life on the line for anything, let alone my country. Not only to put that life on the line for my country, but, very possibly, put that life on the line for a cause in which I do not believe. A challenge to our way of life and our happiness is one thing. But I doubt that I would have been comfortable traveling tens of thousands of miles away to fight in a jungle, or a desert, or in trenches, simply because my government thinks it is imperative to do so.
Luckily I was not faced with that situation and did not have to look inside myself to find the soldier beneath the scholar. But I would like to think that just because I never lifted a rifle, never dug a trench or fired a missile or took a hill, it doesn’t mean that I have not served my country.
Our country is the best country in the world and it is the greatest not just because of our military who fight so valiantly to preserve that way of life, but because of the honest and hard-working people on the ground every day representing the good that is our way of life. Yes, we can all agree that the sacrifices our soldiers make benefits not just the teachers but the gang-bangers as well; that the freedoms that are being preserved by our military includes the freedom to commit crimes, to steal, to murder, and to terrorize. This doesn’t mean that criminals won’t be punished, just that they can commit these crimes and, sometimes get away with them because our system of justice is imperfect. These are all freedoms that our military protects.
So even though I am not firing a rifle, I feel like I am still fighting for our way of life. I am demonstrating to our military that our way of life is worth fighting for. There is nothing worse than working hard for an outcome that is not appreciated. How would our military feel if their fight were being taken for granted by us? If we were abusing the freedoms that they are ensuring? If we were snubbing our noses at them and acting as if we don’t care about their sacrifice?
Tell me I am wrong, but I feel that the way I live my life, with honesty and self-respect and appreciation for all of the freedoms I have, is just as important as the fight being waged by our soldiers on the front lines. By living a virtuous and honorable life, by teaching my children to respect authority and be good citizens, to respect each other and treat each other with dignity, I believe that my fight is just as important. Because, if we don’t act this way and show our military that their fight is worthwhile, then what are they fighting for?
I guess if the call had come, I would have served and done my duty. This country that has given me and my family so much certainly deserves my gratitude, but I have always struggled with the belief that the only way to make fundamental changes in our society is through bloodshed. However, I have always adopted the tenet that nobody comes onto our field and pushes us around.
A deep and heart-felt thank you to all of our military.