Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day Thoughts

Every Veteran's Day, I make it a point at some point to watch "Saving Private Ryan." For some reason to me, the end of the movie, with an elderly James Francis Ryan looking over the grave of Captain Miller, who died trying to preserve Private Ryan's is very moving, as is Captain Miller's last words to Private Ryan, "earn this."

There seems some universality to this message that is hard to lose sight of, and that is that Private Ryan represents all of us Americans. We should seek to earn what our brave soldiers have provided for us by being the best citizens possible. What entails being a good citizen? I suppose alot of things. One thing I don't believe being a good citizen, is being a rubber stamp for any ideology or party. I believe the least we can do, despite our busy schedules is to take seriously our role as the "deciders" when it comes to elections. It means, we have no excuse not to know who our elected officials are and what they are doing. Is it easy? Heck no. But it is a heck of alot easier than dislodging the Wehrmacht's 352nd Division from their stout defences on Omaha beach.

Part of being a good citizen is understanding basic civics and American history. I think a real appreciation for our country, warts and all, comes from understanding where we have been, what mistakes we have made, and what progress we have made correcting those mistakes. When we say we are proud to be an American, there should be some tangible, authentic reason for that pride, not base tribal and national identity like we are just as likely to have to our alma mater's football team.

Part of being a good citizen also entails having the tolerance to find good in imperfect Americans, but the courage to challenge imperfect ideas that may have wide followings among Americans. Courage also applies to a willingness on our part to discard our own ideas when careful scrutiny shows their fatal flaws.

Being a good citizen also entails a sincere attempt at being law abiding. I'm not implying that anyone who has broken the law, from jaywalking through more serious offences cannot be a good citizen. All of us our flawed, but a desire to be law abiding, being honest with our taxes, and helpful to our fellow Americans is something we all should aspire to do.

Now, let me touch the sensitive subject of military service. Admittedly, I come from a long line of civilians, my grandfather barely missing out on World War I, my father barely missing Korea, and I being too young for Vietnam. I have to go back to the American Revolution where my Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather Samuel Boynton fought the British to find a direct ancestor. (Of interest, an even farther back ancestor, Edmund Beaufort, was blamed for the loss of the hundred years war in the 1400's). But I've toyed with the idea of some sort of mandatory military or civilian service. One reason for this, has been a propensity of individuals with no personal stake in a war, seeming to promulgate such wars. Most of my close relatives openly supported the Iraq war, but their sons and daughters served LDS missions, not our overstretched military. I like President Obama's idea of providing education assistance for public service.

A few years ago, while visiting the Gettysburgh battlefield, I remember looking down from Little Round Top to the Devil's Den (See picture at top of this blog) and was moved at what transpired there. General Sickles blundered by sending his Corp into a vulnerable salient, that ultimately, and accidentally saved the day on Gettysburgh's second day of battle. The bloody fighting in that salient gave just enough time for other troops to arrive at the spot I was standing upon at Little Round Top and prevent the Confederates from turning the Union left flank. After the battle, Sickle's old Corp., was so battered and weakened, it had to be merged with another corp. The troops in Sickle's corp didn't ask to go into that vulnerable salient and ultimately lose the bulk of their comrades in arms. But they did their duty. Some times we disagree with the decisions made as far as whether to go into battle, or whether the battle should have been fought the way it was. But in the end, we should never lose sight of the sacrifices of the men and women who did their best, regardless of the circumstances.

To the Veterans out there, I salute you all and say thank you. For those who have lost loved ones serving our country, a thank you sounds inadequate. What I can offer you and the loved ones you lost, is my most sincere attempts at being a good citizen who has earned their sacrifice. I may never get there because your loss is too heavy and my own faults too many. But in the end, that is all any of us non-Veteran citizens have to offer.


just-commenting said...

Thank you for your comments. As a veteran of more than 13 years' active duty as an army surgeon, I appreciate your thoughtful sentiment.

My time in the 1960's and 1970's included the Viet Nam War, and for part of that time, my duties included meeting and triaging what seemed to be an endless supply of casualties, many of them terribly injured. My thoughts were often, "This had damned well better be worth it."

My experience was the opposite side of the enlistment pitches and patriotic speeches by some of the leaders. They saw the excitement of going in to battle, while I dealt with the reality of coming out. I am proud of my service and would do it again without a moment's hesitation.

I have not fired a weapon (I don't really care for hunting) for more than 30 years, but I was a darned good shot (I hold the expert rifleman's badge) and, just like riding a bicycle, I am sure that I could still do it. In a JUST war of defense, I would do what I could even at my age, but have long opposed what our leaders have perpetrated in Iraq.

I find it ironic that we hear that we are spreading freedom and democracy, while we seem to be saying that we will cram their right to choose down their throats, whether they want it or not.

However, today is a day to honor the service of those who have responded to the call in whatever time or conflict. I, too, honor the service of all of them. Soldiers do not get to pick their battles, they can only choose to do their best. But we owe it to all of them, living or dead, to do whatever we can to ensure that our leaders behave with honor equal to that of those men and women who have and do serve us all.

Jeremy said...

Great post. A correct understanding of what it means to be a good citizen is something many of us often lack.

I disagree with your (and Obama's) proposal to compel Americans to serve their country at the point of a gun but I can understand the sentiment.

"Just Commenting",

Thanks for your comment and your service.

Obi wan liberali said...

Now Jeremy, I don't recall forcing people to serve at the end of a rifle. We have a history in our country of encouraging public service through certain enticements. With the rising cost of tuition, I like the idea of people agreeing to public service for educational opportunities.

J.C., thanks for your service. More than that, thanks for the wisdom you've added to my blogs. I greatly value your insights.

Jeremy said...

Sorry if I misunderstood. Whenever I hear someone going on about the glories of mandatory military or civil service alarm bells go off in my head. The only way government can make something mandatory is if, in the end, it aims its guns at its citizens. I didn't mean to get all melodramatic on you!