Sunday, January 19, 2014

Soldiers Dying in Vain

Commenting on the story, "Lone Survivor," Jim Gourley takes on the conventional wisdom, that it should never be suggested that a soldier died in vain:
Yes, Marcus. Your friends died in vain. They went selflessly. They fought bravely. They sacrificed nobly. They lived in the best traditions of duty, honor, and country -- hallowed words which dictate what every American can and ought to be. But they died in vain for the exact reason that they went where their country sent them and did what their country told them to do. America failed you because it failed its obligation to those principles. It gives me no pleasure to write these words, because it applies as much to the friends I lost as it does to yours. But it needs to be said, because the sooner we acknowledge it as a country, the more lives we might save....

[General George Casey] excused himself from proposing a time in the future when that might hold true. And just last year Adm. Mike Mullen expressed the idea in the most definitive of terms: "How could it be that in a democracy -- a free society -- men and women may risk their lives to defend that freedom and lose those lives in vain? It cannot be so."

That was a bastardization of the Gettysburg address. His thesis ran contrary to Lincoln's original remarks. In Lincoln's view, the fallen "consecrated [the field of battle] far above our poor power to add or detract," but the domain of their honor went no further than the burial ground. The president stated explicitly that the cause for which they died could only be made worthy by the citizens who survived them. "It is rather for us here to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us ... that these dead shall not have died in vain...."

Throughout history, our nation's greatest leaders have understood on a deeply personal level that however honorably a soldier acquits himself, he can die in vain, and that it is the responsibility of the leaders and citizenry to see to it that they don't. Our country has lost its sense of that responsibility to a horrifying extent. Our generals have lost the capability to succeed and the integrity to admit failure. Our society has lost the courage and energy to hold them accountable. Over the last decade, our top leaders have wasted the lives of our sons, daughters, and comrades with their incompetence and hubris. After each failure, our citizens have failed to hold them accountable, instead underwriting new failed strategies as quickly as their predecessors with our apathy and sense of detachment. And then we use the tired paeans of "never forget" and "honor the fallen" to distract ourselves from our guilt in the affair. When we blithely declare that they did not die in vain, we deface their honor by using it to wipe the blood from our hands.
I can't help but sympathize with Gourley's observation that politicians now employ the notion that it is a terrible thing to suggest that a soldier could die in vain as a shield against valid criticism of their own decision-making, and also of the popular outcry that enables that conduct rather than requiring accountability.

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