As our nation celebrates Veterans Day, many Americans will take a moment to thank a veteran and consider the price paid for our liberties.
America is not alone in this type of remembrance; many countries around the world rightly set aside time to pay homage to their service members. Yet peoples the world over hold the American veteran in their mind as an emblem of freedom. Physical monuments to the American veteran stand on battlefields and in town squares in many corners of the globe.
What inspires such uniquely far-reaching awe? In my view, the American veteran is a mirror of the foundational principles of America – liberty, equality, and bravery – and these principles have enduring resonance the world over.
The American veteran stands first for liberty, the principle most central to our nation and to our self-conception as Americans. We believe we are and ought to be free people. The Founders clearly believed this, crafting our founding documents on the belief that people are endowed by God with the right to liberty and the right to pursue self-determination.
From the first report of Lexington and Concord, the American veteran has defended this liberty and pursued self-determination at home and abroad. We can be tempted by our post-WWII reality to presuppose the existence of democracy, in our own nation and elsewhere. Yet the Founders, from their experiences with the monarchies of Europe, and our grandparents’ generation, from their experiences with WWII and the Cold War, knew a crucial and timeless truth: liberty and self-determination are not the default setting of government, and they must be fought for and protected. The American veteran has done this since the beginning.
The American veteran also stands for equality. When 56 colonial Americans signed the Declaration of Independence, declaring unanimously that “all men are created equal,” they did so knowing they could be signing their death warrants. Yet they did so freely. Since that day, the principle of equality has driven the American story and been embodied by the American veteran. There are scores of examples of Americans of every background serving as equals on battlefields through the ages with bravery and distinction, even if they did not yet live daily life under equal treatment back home.
And the American veteran stands not only for the equality of Americans, but the equality of mankind. As but one example, when Nazi Germany steamrolled its neighbors East and West, believing that those peoples were inferior beings, the American veteran came to their defense.
Finally, the American veteran stands for bravery, without which there would be no America. Consider the first American veterans, those common men of the Revolution who bravely took up arms against a foe peerless in strength and dominance. Consider the under-resourced, under-experienced American servicemen streaming into the battlefields of Europe at the end of WWI. Consider the many tales of American bravery forged in WWII, from the beaches of Normandy to the shores of Iwo Jima. And in considering these, recognize that every American veteran who has gone forward under the waving banner of our country has done so not out of fidelity to a king or a dictator, but out of fidelity to the principles of our nation alone.
G. K. Chesterton said it best: “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
While the moments of otherworldly courage and pain on foreign battlefields will always come first to mind when we think of the American veteran, the testimony of these American principles rings true in every moment of service.
The decision to serve in any capacity is one requiring great sacrifice. Each American veteran, no matter how long or short their service or near or far their station, advances these principles. To paraphrase George Washington, when the American veteran assumes the soldier, he does not lay aside the citizen.”
Of course, principles are ideals, and America is not perfect. At varying times and in tragic ways, we have failed in striving for these principles of liberty, equality, and bravery. Yet we return time and time again to these principles as our guideposts to what America is and can be. And so they endure, borne out to us and to the rest of the world by the American veteran.
On this Veterans Day, after you have thanked the veterans in your life, I hope you take a moment to give thanks for the American principles for which they stand, and for your chance as a citizen to pursue these in your own right. What a privilege it is to live in the land of the free, because of the brave.
This piece is written in gratitude to all of the American veterans in the author’s life, who each chose to give of themselves in service to our nation, in ways seen and unseen. Thank you.
Lee G. Barkley lives in Huntsville. His professional and personal interests lie at the intersection of faith, civic life, and the marketplace. He can be reached at [email protected].
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].
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