As you read this, I’m at Fort Moore (formerly Benning), Georgia, where my son-in-law is about to be commissioned as an officer in the United States Army. He will raise his hand and swear before God to defend our Constitution.
As Americans, we spend so much time venerating “the troops” that we forget soldiers are not mythological heroes in an action story told for our inspiration or entertainment. They and their families are very real people.
As a nation, we have struck a bargain with some 1.2 million active-duty soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, as well as another half-million guardsmen. We tell them that if they will stand on the wall, ready to do rough things, we will take care of them and their families.
The modern oaths for officers and enlisted personnel are each about 70 words in length. Both are the same in tone and purpose as those administered in the earliest days of our Republic. For more than two centuries, they have honorably upheld their end of the deal.
We, on the other hand, have largely failed them. The Veterans Administration too often operates somewhere on the dishonorable spectrum between a disgrace and a disaster. Military families already struggle with poverty, alcoholism, and divorce because of the stress and trauma generally imposed by life and death in the armed forces, and we then add additional layers for good measure.
It is not that our soldiers and their families crave tokens of gratitude, it is that we aren’t doing enough to practically help with the physical and psychological toll of the service we have extracted from them.
Sure, we’ll slap a “support the troops” sticker on our truck’s bumper, but we won’t hold politicians accountable for mismanaging the care and support of those troops abroad or their families at home.
We act like we’re doing “the troops” a favor when we send them to fight wars designed to enrich the politicians and appeal to the sensibilities of armchair warriors. Just because old men dream of glory, young men should not have to bleed in foreign fields.
While war might find us, we should not be so eagerly looking for it.
Perhaps, instead, our forces should only be deployed when the threats to our nation are real and imminent, rather than vacuous or imagined. Our might should be exercised to defend our Constitution, not for the profit of politicians or the military-industrial complex.
The answer is not a law or a program, but a governing mindset. Not just the mindset of our elected servants, but in each of us as the Republic’s citizen-leaders. We must stop seeing the military as props in political theater but as a precious and limited resource.
Even as my daughter and her husband embark on this adventure, prepared to sacrifice for our Republic, it is my prayer we as a people do our utmost to make their lives peaceful and boring.