Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Every man dies; not every man truly lives.

So, there I was, on my Harley, in uniform, mounting up for a ride to the Pentagon. Along comes a mother and her young son, and a couple other children. I presume they were walking to the school bus. They are talking about what the kids want to be when they grow up: doctors and lawyers, mostly. I don't know if the boy saw me at all, but he said he wanted to be a Soldier. Mom said, "Why would you want to do that? You'll just get killed."

Well! The comment felt like a slap. Not only am I here and very much alive, but I know too many brothers in arms who are no longer here and who do not deserve to be dismissed so lightly.

This conversation was certainly within my earshot, and possibly for my "benefit." I was offended, but despite my irritation at the woman's thoughtless, disrespectful, and untrue comment, I decided to let the moment pass peacefully. As the small band walked past, I was reminded of this scene in the movie Braveheart, in which actor Mel Gibson, portraying William Wallace, utters his famous line:

"Every man dies; not every man truly lives."

I saw no need to engage the woman and convince her of the error of her offensive comment in front of the school kids. Perhaps she's just protecting her baby, and I get that. And it's a poor recruiter who attracts the lad by picking a fight with his mom.

But look, I just cannot keep this to myself!

1. People certainly do not join the Army to get killed! They join because they are willing to risk their lives for something they believe in. That and a host of other reasons. In fact, ask 100 Soldiers why they joined and you'll get 101 reasons.

2. Furthermore, the Army does not recruit people to get them killed. The Army recruits people to fight and win our Nation's wars. This is not a risk-free undertaking. But our elected leaders do not send our  military into harm's way unless the benefit to our National security outweighs the risk to our time, talent, and treasure.

3. Finally, all people who do joint the Army do not get killed.

  • Yes, some who join do get killed and others seriously wounded, but becoming a casualty is hardly the inevitable consequence for every single Soldier. 
  • We've had an average of 100 K troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan for 11 years. That's about 400 K individuals who have deployed over two times each on average. Of that number, 6 K died and another 34 K were injured, for a casualty rate of about 10%. 
  • So Mom could have said, "Why would you want to [join the Army]? You'll face a 10% chance of getting killed or injured." 
  • The fact is, even that more accurate statement would have offended me. 

What romantic vision inspired that young man to proclaim his desire to be a Soldier? And what cynical,  ungrateful, or frightened spirit caused his mom to squelch that thought--with me as the training aid? I feel that the real truth lies between the extremes of a child's youthful invincibility and an adult's protective defensiveness.

  • The real truth is that without justice, there will be no peace. 
  • The real truth is that to avoid being taken advantage of, one must have a strong defense. 
  • The real truth is that some things really are worth fighting for. 

Every human dies. However, living to merely avoid death another day is not really living at all. What is the purpose of a life if there is not even one thing worth fighting, dying, or possibly even killing for?

I pray for the end of all war, and the end to tyranny and injustice, and the beginning of lasting global harmony and peace. The hard reality of the human condition is this: the more people listen to, and talk like, the mother I overheard, the more people refuse to sacrifice for peace, the longer we will have to wait for it. Burying our heads in the sand is no way to bring about positive social change.

Peace is under the shade of swords.