In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.
After my “Cold War Retrospective” post I was put in an awkward position. A thoughtful commenter posted the following, “Awesome post, Robert! And thank you so much for your service to this nation. ” The “Awesome post, Robert!” was too generous and kind, but the next part froze me. I actually stared at the screen for five minutes. I didn’t know how to respond.
I had never been thanked for my service. Yes, I had stood up in church on Veterans Day or Memorial Day sheepishly accepting the applause along with a small group of mostly guys.
In uniform, I had been spit on and called a “baby killer” for my perceived atrocities in Vietnam, though I was too young to have served in that conflict. And I was called a “coward” for not getting the hostages out of Iran. Since I was never a policymaker and I didn’t plan the botched rescue mission in the desert, I could do little to aid the hostages. My role was to sway policy and implement strategies to “exploit” our adversaries’ weaknesses. Operational plans were not my call.
Throughout my service, my interactions with the general populace, which I swore to protect and defend, were tense, terse, and testy for the most part. And that prickliness never bothered me. I didn’t seek praise or recognition. Trust me, a soldier’s life is not filled with the expectation of comfort, kindness, or praise. We are conditioned for extreme difficulty, discomfort, and the looming specter of harm. Being knee-deep in the sh*t comes with the job.
I called my son Robert, who is in an active Army Reserve Unit until he commissions in 2023. I ask him, how he handled the gratitude of strangers saying, “thank you for your service.” He offered a couple ideas.
By way of context, my family has been serving this country’s military since the nation’s founding. We have shed blood in every battle & war since the 1776 revolution. My grandfather is buried in Arlington National Cemetary. He rested in the “gardens of stone”.
My family went to war solely to preserve freedom. We are citizen-soldiers or warrior poets in the best sense of the term. Warrior Poets are those who train and fight for a higher purpose. Like a medieval knight in shining armor, the warrior poet embodies the perfect balance between the physical, spiritual, and intellectual being. These ideals were also interpreted by other cultures similar to the Japanese Samurai and their Code of Bushido.
“The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting by fools.”—Thucydides (Athenian general — 400 B.C.)
To a man, the men in my family who fought and served hated war. War’s carnage is the ultimate expression of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man or women. We were all highly educated and fully committed to being peacemakers in troubled times. Also, we fought hardest for the man to the right and left of us. We fought for our brothers-in-arms so that we could return to our families and our lives back in the states.
Did we agree with every order or action our country took in every conflict? Absolutely not. However, military service is not a democracy. There are no votes taken. No union representative to act on our behalf if matters go sideways. Which they often do. We execute and carry out lawful orders to the best of our ability. Period.
Atrocities and intentionally killing of non-combatants are not lawful orders to be executed. Those shameful acts are sins and criminal behavior that should be treated as such.
I joined the Army because I believed I had a responsibility to my fellow citizens. America and its people are far from perfect. Lord knows I am not. Our ongoing union is often tested in messy ways. A bloody civil war in the 1860s and the regular exchange of angry, and divisive rhetoric between its citizens. Free speech can be ugly at times but it also can be kind, loving, and just.
I took an oath to lay down my life to protect yours. As my forebearers had done. As my son Robert has done. My family and I are not unique. Hundreds of thousands of everyday families regularly offer up their best, brightest, and young to be your citizen-soldiers, your warrior poets willing to fight for those who can’t or won’t fight for themselves.
“People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” -George Orwell
Below is a stunning picture of Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine.
I stand unequivocally behind the Ukrainian men and women fighting to maintain their freedom against the coming Russian oppression. Any United States military aid, money, or food that can be provided should be expedited. Ukraine’s fighters are citizen soldiers, or warrior poets, who are willing to lay down their lives for a cause bigger than themselves. The idea of maintaining a “free and democratic” Ukraine.
(From the Wall Street Journal February 28, 2022) A Ukrainian tattoo artist pulled up to Poland’s border with Ukraine on Sunday, informing the immigration officers on duty that he was headed back to Ukraine to fight.
“Good,” a Polish officer told Nikita Azarkhin, 32, who stepped out and loaded a camouflage-print duffle bag full of first-aid kits onto a bus headed into Ukraine.
“I would love not to fight, and be alive, but this is the time where if I want to be able to look myself in the mirror, I have to, have to go,” said Mr. Azarkhin, who has been living in Berlin and had never fired a gun outside a firing range. “Otherwise, I will live in my own personal hell in my head.” Mr. Azarkhin is a citizen-soldier ready to fight off an invasion that imperils Ukraine’s freedom.
As a fledgling democracy, America should be involved in Ukraine’s survival but not be the mechanism of its deliverance. Give the Ukrainians the means to be their own liberators. Freedom delivered is not the same, as freedom won.
In the year of our Lord 1314, patriots of Scotland – starving and outnumbered – charged the fields of Bannockburn. They fought like warrior poets; they fought like Scotsmen, and won their freedom.” -William Wallace, Braveheart
Let the Ukrainians defend themselves and win their freedom. We should rush them aid, support, and whatever logistics they require and let them fight like they are right now.
Just prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a YouGov poll suggests a plurality of respondents 48% would oppose going to war with Russia should it invade Ukraine. Only 27% would favor going to war, and 24% indicated they didn’t know.
From a peacemaker’s perspective, I believe the United States should keep the definition of our “national interest” as narrow as possible when considering sending our Warrior Poets into Ukraine. We have our NATO alliance to consider with ties that bind our common defense. Beyond that, we should ignore the drumbeat of the popular press to demonize Russia. Is Russia wrong? Absolutely. No question. Without debate. The Russian aggression is an afront to the civilized world.
But is Ukraine our battle line?
The US opinion polling on Russia’s favorability is justifiably awful. Epically bad in fact according to the Gallup poll depicted below. 85% very or mostly unfavorable.
Looking at those polls, let us consider advice from our first President of the United States. A man intimately acquainted with war and the costs of nascent independence.
“The nation which indulges toward another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.” –George Washington
Let’s not fall into the “Russia, Russia” trap that is being set for us to the exclusion of all other “national interests.” Our foremost consideration, beyond direct aid to Ukraine, should be tending to our NATO alliance. “Sī vīs pācem, parā bellum.” Translated, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” It seems oddly appropriate to close with the words of an iconic Russian writer.
“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” -Leo Tolstoy
Until next time. Pray for the people of Ukraine to persevere in the dark days ahead. Stay safe.
As a postscript let me say thank you to my commenter from last week who said, “”Awesome post, Robert! And thank you so much for your service to this nation, ” I appreciate your readership and thoughtfulness. Because of you, I now have a response to “thank you for your service.” My response will be, “You’re welcome. It was my privilege to serve.”