Saturday, February 14, 2009

Honoring the Purchase

When I presented today my conviction that a nation who knows her troops will be thus more inclined to labor for their safe, expedient and victorious return, the gentleman listening fired back a response almost immediately.

“I don’t think I WANT to know them that well.”

This not something I have ever heard before, or even considered for a moment. I have found the general public to be particularly curious, if not concerned already about the welfare of troops overseas. Yet here this man was suggesting that he didn’t wish to know them well at all. He continued:

“It’s so hard to know them. Because then it’s like losing your own child. It’s SO hard. And their moms…I have no idea how they do it. I can’t even imagine what they go through.”

While I initially thought his remarks were cold or even rooted in apathy, it became quickly clear that it was intended as an avoidance of profound grief. He, also a veteran of another war, had probably already experienced more than his fair share. But is avoidance necessarily the answer?

I’ve attended only one military funeral – and that for a friend that was killed when an IED went off under his vehicle. He was about 28. I will never forget this service, it’s solemnity, nor the wails of this man’s mother for her son. They haunt me, actually, and I think they always will. Nevertheless, I am glad I went, and glad that I was able to demonstrate, for what little it may be worth, that I cared about her son, and wished to honor him and his family one final time.

Perhaps it is easier for the nation to send troops into harm’s way if they remain faceless, unknown, and to some degree therefore unreal. Perhaps the anonymity is necessary for leaders and citizens alike to make or support decisions that will undoubtedly place many thousands in great peril. Perhaps the fact they volunteered their service releases us from some level of concern for them. Maybe knowing and loving them personally would prevent anybody being willing to send them anywhere at all.

Knowing and caring about the troops is, without a doubt, a voluntary shouldering of overwhelming grief. But to ignore them is a refusal to accept reality. Though it may be extremely painful; though we may feel like we are losing our own children, we must know them. Not doing so is fleeing difficulty for the safety of ignorance. This nation was not won by apathy, however. It was purchased with the blood of our country’s willing, concerned, and indignant young men and women. It was far from free.

One of the most odious aspects of leadership is knowing that your decisions, however right and necessary they may be, will send some men to their deaths. It is a mantle few wish to carry, and fewer still sleep well having accepted. But for a commander to distance himself from his charges, knowing full well that some will not come home, is not full acceptance of the yoke of leadership. It is circumventing the greatest honor of the position. A leader does not act in the best interest of the troops or himself. He acts in the best interest of the mission, and therefore the nation. He sets aside personal objection to an order, acknowledges that some of his men will not survive, accepts the agonizing self-questioning that accompanies it, and then, disavowing self, delivers his orders with country in the deepest chambers of his heart. For his nation, he has sacrificed a clear conscience. Ask any officer who has lost men.

To some degree, this applies to the citizens of this nation. It is our responsibility to commit the troops to war with the utmost reluctance. It is our duty to care about them and know them – for they are our own. And it is our honor and simultaneous burden to grieve in their loss. An American should know full well the cost of freedom. Those who take it for granted lack appreciation for those that provided and defended it. Citizenship is a responsibility – and not an easy one. We, too, will sacrifice our clear conscience for the sake of our own.

“We’ll be landing under fire, gentlemen. Men will die.” So said Colonel Moore to his troops as they readied to ship out to la Drang Valley, Vietnam. Such is the nature of war. Yet though nobody may wish to openly admit it, war still serves its purpose. With war comes death, grief, and misery. Most of us are fortunate to have never experienced it. But while war takes the life of the warrior far from home, it kills the spirit and destroys the families of the surviving right here. We should know their loved ones, and stand with them in their grief. It could just as easily have been our son or daughter. Or it could have been us, had not so many millions gone before us to preserve what we now so casually enjoy.

Entering into a condition of caring for the troops means walking squarely into a wound, but I must go there all the same. I cannot accept the alternative. I have much to be thankful for, and somebody paid for it. Scripturally, to love is to suffer. Indeed this is the case. Preserving freedom comes at high cost; and I want to know the men and women who volunteer to pay it, regardless of the cost to me.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. I have read your blog, and I appreciate your candor.

    If I say very little it is because there is very little to say if one has not experienced the kinds of things you are describing. Thanks for bringing about the means to enable the broadening of a small civilian world.

  2. For the preservation of freedom and liberty,I hope that I will never know what its like to face my enemy square in the eyes and kill but those who are facing them for me will always have my deepest respect, compassion and thankfulness.

  3. Is this the idea that ignorance is bliss? It may be. But it is certainly more costly. And ignorance never lasts.