“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!”
Guy Sajer “The Forgotten Soldier”
Currently well under one percent of Americans are serving in any branch of the military and of these not all have served with boots on the ground. There is no shame for those that have not as land war is the prevue of the Army and Marines though a significant number of Sailors and some Air Force personnel have served alongside their Soldier and Marine comrades in arms.
Of those that serve there is not one who has not enlisted, reenlisted or renewed their Officer Oath of Office at least once since September 11th 2001. There are those of us who have been in far longer but even we have made the commitment to continue in the service of our country knowing that anyone can be sent into harm’s way at any time.
Those that serve especially those that have served at the point of the spear in the remote badlands, or dangerous cities of Iraq and Afghanistan are a true minority group. We are a minority group composed of the best our nation has to offer. We represent every state and territory; we are citizens or in the case of many immigrants’ men and women seeking citizenship by risking their lives for a country that often despises their relatives based on their race, nationality or religion. In fact this is not new; men have come to this country since our revolution from far countries because of the ideals that this nation represents.
This is a minority group composed of all races and whose families helped colonize this nation, came here in the following centuries and those that were here before the Europeans landed on this continent. We represent almost every religion and creed known to human kind. We come from cities, small towns, rural areas and island territories. We are Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Independents. We are Americans and we know war not from books, though many of us study military history, strategy and the lives of those great Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen that have gone before us. We know war because we have seen it. We have lost friends and seen others maimed or injured in mind, body or spirit. We have seen the wounded and the destruction which war inflicts on often innocent people who have the misfortune of living in a combat zone.
We do not make policy we carry out the orders of our national leaders and obey the laws passed by Congress. We are professionals. We are not perfect but we serve. In a sense we embody what the character of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine said at Gettysburg in Michael Shaara’s novel The Killer Angels and its film adaptation Gettysburg.
“This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This has not happened much, in the history of the world: We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end… we’re fighting for each other. Sorry. Didn’t mean to preach.”
We serve at a time that our nation has been engaged in two very costly wars in terms of lives and treasure. We never thought that they would last as long as they have after all we were promised that and even told that the mission was “completed.” But the wars didn’t end and now our nation is involved in one, maybe two more in Libya and possibly Yemen.
We are told in spite of what we know from experience that the wars are going well and that we have turned a corner in Afghanistan even as the situation on the ground tells us otherwise. We have the professional military experts in the think tanks telling us that the wars have to continue. Of course these men have never served in combat and what they know is gleaned from their interpretation of history and often dictated by their ideology and sometimes even worse by their connections to the defense industry, that which President and General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower so charmingly called “the military industrial complex.” Of course now we can and the media and elected officials who promote war to sustain their political power and enrich the powerful in their home districts.
Then there are those, especially the young that grow up with war as a series of video games and since very few meet the standards to serve in the military for a wide variety of reasons think that war is cool. Look at the top selling games, almost all deal with virtual close combat, without any cost to those that play them.
Such men and in some cases women need to learn about war in the uncomfortable manner described by Sajer, a Frenchman that served in the German Army on the Eastern Front because one of his parents was German. The problem is that those that promote war as a business and those that sell war to kids via the entertainment industry really don’t care about the real human beings, the men and women who serve knowing that these wars are unlikely to end anytime soon. Even more frightening are people of strong religious convictions who promote war in order to see their views, especially about the Middle East vindicated.
Such are the comfortable experts who debate in comfort and write with a detached certitude that they alone have the correct view of the world. There is a good case to be made that such people be held accountable for the wars that they advocate and the lives lost because of their hubris.