11 November 2008
Honor to Veterans
Americans who've served in the military, especially in wartime, are worthy of honor. They should be praised for noble acts, for sacrifice and risk. These things are worthy of honor. I insist on that word instead of the preferred term of our time, which is gratitude. Honor is what's due to brave people in a democratic republic. If we owe them anything, which is the implication of gratitude, it's for serving in our places -- for being braver than the rest of us.Too often, however, propagandists and self-styled superpatriots claim that we owe the soldiers everything, but especially our freedom. This is the pretext of militarism as an ideology. Militarists would convince us that civilians are in a permanent state of indebtedness or obligation to the military. The object is to promote deference toward the military, although in practice this means deference toward the commander-in-chief. Militarists don't want us to question political decisions in favor of military force or the ethics of any given military action. To do either, they insinuate, is to show ingratitude to the one power that sustains our freedom. But each person's courage is the real power that sustains individual freedom. Military power guarantees only territorial security, and that alone, history shows, is no guarantee of freedom. So let's not overstate our debts to veterans. Instead, let's acknowledge the most obvious ones. If these people were willing to risk their lives or sacrifice their health in our places, then the least we can do is guarantee the survivors as secure an existence as the nation's resources can provide.That is how we honor heroes in democracies; not by making them our masters, but by giving them their due.