I have been shot at, and have hidden in a bunker as bombs exploded all around me. I have talked with other soldiers at some length, soldiers who have also been shot at, bombed, and mortared.
Not one of us was ignorant of the American way of life when we enlisted. We all know about backyard barbecues, where people gather to drink cheap beer and eat disgusting hot-dogs and hamburgers that may actually contain real meat... possibly.
We know about the commercialization, where shopping has become more important than honoring dead soldiers (or a living Savior.) We know about American Idol, which people find more important than paying respect to—or even thinking about—those who have fallen in battle. We are fully aware of the ungrateful, the disrespectful, and the actively hateful people who have no interest in or respect for what we do.
And yet, we still do what we do.
So why do we do it?
The answer is surprisingly simple.
We do it so that people can have backyard barbecues with bad hot dogs, good shopping, and yes, even American Idol.
We fight so that people can live the lives they choose without fear that somebody is going to tear them from their homes in the middle of the night—or, as happens all too often in parts of the world, in broad daylight. We fight so that children never have to think about the evils that men can visit upon each other. We do it so that people can have their toys and their beer, and can say whatever they want without worrying that someone will come along one day, waving their AK-47, and take away everything they have worked all their lives to attain. This still happens in many parts of the world, and we fight to keep it from happening to our own people.
Many people complain that by participating in these very American activities—shopping, watching TV, barbecuing, and so on—that people are somehow dishonoring or cheapening the memory of those who have fought so hard to make this way of life possible for them.
I believe that every time an American buys a cheap toy for his child, every time he pushes the button on the remote control of his 60" plasma TV, and every time he buys a beer at a NASCAR race, he is honoring those dead soldiers by taking advantage of the opportunities that they have spent so much of their blood to win for him.
Any parent who has worked to give his child a better life than he has had can understand this. The parent struggles and sacrifices so that the child will never have to know struggle and sacrifice. The parent takes some pride and satisfaction when he sees that his child has it easier than he ever did.
Why would it be any different for a soldier?
Many people make a lot of fuss and bother about how modest and humble soldiers seem. "The quiet professional" is considered quite a compliment.
But look at it from our point of view:
We do our job for the purpose of preserving what we already know. It was our way of life long before we decided to go out and defend it. We know what we are buying with our blood and sweat. When we come home and see how Americans behave, we take a certain quiet satisfaction in knowing that we helped keep people free to enjoy the beach on a Saturday afternoon, or pay too much for cotton candy at a carnival in the park.
This is especially true when we soldiers have been to places where such things could never happen; places like Afghanistan, where religious fanatics sweep through town and demand either your money or your children to fight their battles, and if you refuse, they kill you and take your money and your children anyway.
In places like this, there is no money to support NASCAR races or carnivals in the park, because warlords sweep in wherever there is any prosperity and take all of the wealth for themselves. In places like this, people have no time to go to the beach because they are constantly working to produce enough food to keep themselves alive. Often, after they have produced that food, somebody will come along and take it from them. For most of these people, there is no hope for a 60" TV, a nice car, or decent medical care.
Soldiers who have been there have seen this for ourselves, and when we get home, we know just how good the average American has it.
I am not proposing that we stop rendering honors to those who have fallen in battle; indeed, we should honor them more often than we usually do.
What I am proposing in this essay is that it is not any form of dishonor to their memory when we enjoy the things that make us so uniquely American. Do not worry that people go shopping on Memorial Day, or get a little crazy on the 4th of July.
These are the things which make us American, and it is for these things that we willingly offer our time… and, occasionally, our lives.
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