The student body sat rapt and respectful as the veterans talked about their experiences in the military, their motivations for entering the service, and the manner in which they prepared to join the ranks of the armed forces. With the combination of gusto and uncertainty that characterizes most elementary school choral performances, the children then serenaded their special guests, bringing proud tears to the eyes of at least one audience member. It was an intergenerational admiration society: the adults getting to see the future that their sacrifice helped make possible and the students having heroes to whom to direct their adulation.
Legions have given the ultimate sacrifice to protect the ideals upon which our country was founded. But a military member need not die in order for us to appreciate the sacrifices, large and small, that they have made on our behalf. In addition to risking life and limb, our soldiers and their families chance their mental health, cede control over their destinies to politicians and commanding officers, and put themselves into some of the most unimaginable environmental and social conditions. On a macro level, there is tremendous honor and glory in serving our country. The daily routine of a military life is much less glamorous.
All the while, the larger population has only a tangential and infrequent respect for these hourly sacrifices. We give little thought to the lives that we can lead because veterans gave their lives, literally or proverbially. We can be coddled because our military was uncomfortable. We can be safe because our soldiers were in danger. We can be weak because our proud warriors were strong.
Our military members put their abstract ideals about duty and country above practical considerations. This type of sacrifice is not rational: it defies reason to volunteer to be the recipient of enemy gunfire while the rest of the country sits on the couch watching Netflix and chilling. But, this is one of the few arenas where irrationality is a boon. Like great athletes or artists or musicians, the soldier must eschew the normal in order to achieve something truly inspired.
The legal system is not the place to make such sacrifices, even though many make the false equivalence between a lawsuit and a battle. Litigation is a process that must be governed by rationality. Thus, I rarely recommend engaging in legal action because it means placing one’s legal or moral position ahead of sanity, finances, time, family, health, and other of life’s necessities and desires. While I can respect those that choose to enter the legal fray to stand upon their principles, it is not a choice that I would make. Largely, this is because I do not have faith in the ability of the system to vindicate those principles.
There is an important distinction between wars and the people who fight them. Wars are a political game, a means for those in power to expand or consolidate it, at the expense of the people on the ground/at sea/in the air. I may not value the wars in which our country has chosen to engage, but I have nothing but the deepest gratitude for the persons who have allowed me and my family and friends to have the freedom to live the lives that we choose. Happy Veteran’s Day.