I was watching The Chris Matthews' Show yesterday and found a conversation the panel had about military service interesting. They were discussing whether or not military service in a political candidate made much difference anymore with regard to electability. The youngest person on the panel (Kasie Hunt) pointed out that it is no longer as universal an experience as it once was. In the Greatest Generation almost everyone served. The same was true for Baby Boomers who were subjected to a draft during the Vietnam war. But, in my generation (X) and younger, as we have fought wars with an all volunteer service, a far fewer percentage have served. She went further to explain that less of us these days even know someone who is serving or has served. This strikes me as true. While I have friends who have served or are serving, the last members of my family to serve fought in World War II. Despite extended conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have not lost anyone and, of course, our homeland has not truly been threatened. While many have lost loved ones in these conflicts, my experience is far from unique. In fact, I'll wager it is the norm. Relatively few of us are feeling the pain or experiencing the horror of these wars.
It should not be lost on any of us that even when war is necessary, it is horrible. Today is a day to remember those who have paid the ultimate price and rendered what President Lincoln called, "the last full measure of devotion," in the defense of our nation and for the cause of liberty. Robert E. Lee observed, "It is well that war is so terrible, else we should become too fond of it." But for most of us, is it so terrible? Most of us live in peace and comfort while volunteers, men and women far braver than I, risk life and limb on battlefields half a world away on our behalf. Which begs the question, what impact does the fact that a majority of Americans don't experience the horror of war have on our war policy? Are we too quick to engage in conflict? Have we become, as a society, too fond of it? Certainly our political leaders order these young men and women to their deaths with impunity. The Dick Cheneys, Newt Gingriches, Barack Obamas, Rick Santorums, Mitt Romneys, and Hilary Clintons have all advocated for the projection of military power abroad without ever having served themselves or even having sons and daughters serving (John McCain is a notable exception here. While I often disagree with his hawkishness, at least he knows full well what he is asking our servicemen and women to do). Those that decide whether or not we go to war do so without any personal stake. They are all, as Congressman Paul described them, chicken hawks. How easy is it for them to order other people's sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles into battle? How easy is it for us to let them when we are not impacted directly by their sacrifice? For my fellow trekkers (and others who share my view that everything they ever needed to know in life they learned from watching Star Trek), I am reminded of the original series episode, "A Taste of Armageddon," in which two planets remain perpetually at war for eons because the war is entirely computer simulated, with casualties then assigned to report to painless execution chambers. Without the violence and destruction and with relatively few providing the sacrifice, the societies in this episode tolerated war indefinitely and had no incentive to seek peace. Is this what is to become of us? Shall we become society perpetually at war because we have removed its sting from most of the population?
Let us today remember all those who have paid that terrible price and let us pray for the day when there are no more of them to remember.