Fair enough. Far too many people enjoy the long weekend without taking a moment to reflect on just how many Americans have died in the nation’s wars. That is, of course, the purpose of Memorial Day. But even such an appropriate gesture of respect can be taken too far. What was, long ago, all too often a public contempt for those who wore the uniform has today transformed into a reverence almost bordering on worship in some instances. The public has been conditioned — yes, I said conditioned — to genuflect at the sight of the trappings of the State, whether it is a flag, a uniform, “military machines” or other symbols of authority and power.
This is not healthy, either. Nor is the idea that it is only those who put on a uniform who defend freedom. That is certainly NOT the case.
The military is a potent force, but it is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent. It does certain jobs very well, even when those choosing how to employ it don’t necessarily think through their decisions or the long-term consequences. While our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines pledge to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” they are at a distinct disadvantage on that latter score. After all, there are few, if any, misguided fools who want a politicized military. Subservience to civil authority is an appropriate and well-established tradition for the military. But that also means those who serve have few options to deal with politicians and power brokers more interested in wielding influence than respecting the Constitutional system or acting in the best interests of the nation.
* They cannot, for the most part, speak out against policies their experience, education and training tells them will be foolhardy. As the saying goes, ‘theirs is not to reason why, theirs it but to do and die.’
* They cannot speak out against specific figures in our political system who care more for their own agendas than the success of America at large. Unlike their fellow citizens who have free exercise of the First Amendment, military leaders can be prosecuted for speaking ill of elected officials.
Why do I note all this? Because simply thanking those in uniform for their service, and remembering those who “gave all,” is not enough! Not by a long shot. Unless it reflects the commitment of every American to our Constitutional freedoms — including a willingness to undergo personal inconvenience to act at home — it’s simply the modern equivalent of a bow or a curtsey to the power of the State. Benjamin Franklin is famously said to have told a woman after the Constitutional Convention that they had given America a republic… if we could keep it. Neither he nor any of the Founders envisioned that task to be one solely outsourced to the military — particularly since they considered large standing forces to be an inherent threat to liberty.
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance on the part of every citizen, as well as a willingness to be involved (beyond expressing outrage online) when that freedom is threatened.
* Want to thank a Soldier’s family for enduring his/her multiple deployments? Take time from work or leisure to add your presence and voice to protests of poor legislation — or poor legislators.
* Want to thank a Sailor or Airman? Be willing to ask our nation’s leaders why they are so quick to employ them around the world, on the slightest pretext. Memorial Day shouldn’t be the only time of year where the ghastly and enduring cost of war is considered. Counting that cost should be a sober part of the public’s response every time it’s asked to rally to the flag for yet another fight. What are we being told this time is worth the pain and sacrifice that war always entails? Could you look a Soldier in the eye and ask him or her to die for that cause? Would you be willing to? If not, perhaps the best way to support the troops is to pressure the leaders not to send them.
In other words, the best way to ‘thank the troops’ is to have their backs at home. Get in the habit of asking yourself regularly what you are doing to defend freedom and our Constitution against ‘all enemies, foreign and domestic.’
Because if you don’t, there is a very good chance you will lose it.