Veterans Day, a day of hope and honor
Veterans Day, November 11, 2019, has come and gone, but the sentiment remains; a moment to honor those who have served in the armed forces of the United States of America. While Memorial Day commemorates all who lost their lives to protect the values – freedom, justice, rule of law – of our country, Veterans Day embraces all who presently or previously served to defend the public trust in our way of life.
While the phrase, “Thank you for your service” is often used to fill a vacuum of true appreciation, this is a particularly vulnerable time for us to reflect on the nature of our political experiment. Born in rebellion, but based on thoughtful and articulate ideals, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of our country are based on the premise that, though people are imperfect in thought and action, striving for an ideal is not idle fantasy or an impossible dream. Citizens and non-citizens of all colors, religion and creeds have fought, some with fatal consequences, to protect this ‘land of opportunity,” no matter how flawed.
Service to these ideals comes in many forms, some not clothed in a uniform. However, the visible testament to this collective effort is represented by our service men and women, standard bearers for all of us – separated from prior military service or not. Many military personnel, especially those who have endured the hardship and frightening aspects of combat, will counsel against indiscriminate violence, in favor of peaceful diplomacy. That same lesson can be applied to all levels of strife – local to national and international.
Throughout the history of conflict involving the United States, leaders have often used phrases that indicate strength, but reserve armed conflict for occasions that warrant it (or sometimes, don’t!). During a period of expanding international influence, our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), was fond of saying, “Speak softly but carry a big stick; you will go far.” Although applied in an uneven manner by that president and others that have followed, the sentiment carries a message of hope and reconciliation, holding force in reserve. The United States has a big stick; thoughtful and judicious use of it is always a challenge with the lives of many in the balance.
Veterans Day is a moment in time that we can enjoy a holiday but take at least some time to contemplate the cost of our form of government and threats to its existence. At all levels of public management – public and private, civil and military – debate and discourse should take precedence over intimidation and coercion. While the force of law and consequences is a necessary ingredient for practical life, force and might can be held as a defensive option to provide peace of mind that will protect our land and families in times of strife.
In the 1965 musical, Man of La Mancha, inspired by a fictional portrayal of Don Quixote by the 17th century Spanish writer, Miguel de Cervantes, the theme song, “The Impossible Dream” became a worldwide hit. In the face of overwhelming odds and a mock trial, the main character expands on the idea of persevering in the face of insurmountable odds. His song [music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion]is a reflection of an ideal that may or may not be achieved, but is worth the struggle. The song ends with the aspirational conclusion:
And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will be peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest.
In recognition of our people in uniform – parents, siblings, children, friends and family – that are asked to protect us, the phrase, “Thank you for your service” does have meaning.