A Soldier’s Holiday Essay

Joe Roche writes:

It is Christmas time, Hanukah, and the New Year is just around the corner. I ask you to think of our soldiers and how our Republic gives us such virtue in serving our nation. I have spent this time of year deployed in Baghdad and I can tell you that though there will be huge efforts made to make the soldiers feel holiday cheer, nothing can really ease the personal sacrifice involved. Except, that is, to behold anew what it is we endeavor to achieve as Americans, soldiers and civilians alike.Ours is the most noble and righteous country the world has ever seen. We are slow to go to war, perhaps too slow when enemies of the peace prepare to attack. This is because we do not seek war. Our history is full of times when America did not respond to conflict, did not participate in an on-going war, and did not quash a tyrant when threats were made. This is because ours is a democracy, based on the rule of law, grounded upon a brilliant constitution that preserves the ultimate checks on the abuse of power, while always celebrating the time-honored changes of leadership by elections.

Struggling to create this great republic, Thomas Paine wrote, “man is not the enemy of man, but through the medium of a false system of government.” Therefore, the Founding Fathers, recognizing that there is a higher divine authority not of this earth, laid the foundations of justice, legislation and leadership upon a system of checks and balances, augmented by the separation of powers.

Into this troubled world where repression and tyranny have been the norm, America has given hope to billions. Now, as President George W. Bush said after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, “the commitment of our fathers is the calling of our time.” This is because the 21st century is seeing the rise of very dangerous regimes and terrorist organizations seeking weapons of mass destruction.

We can no longer wait for threats to become imminent. Human civilization depends upon our victory in the War on Terror. Yet, as agonizing as the political debate has become over Iraq and all that is involved, I believe we have reason to be confident, positive and very hopeful. We are, after all, doing the right thing as Americans.

The American Revolution created a republic of laws built upon respect for the liberty of the individual. This foundation has survived through tragedies such as the divisive bloodshed of the Civil War and the humiliating end of the Vietnam War. And because this country continues to be an expression of individual liberty, America, in essence, represents the human spirit among the affairs of nations. Thus, we have a duty, unlike any other nation at any other time, to stand for what is just and right. Ronald Reagan challenged us on this “rendezvous with history”: “We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope for man on earth.”

This is a time of immense challenge. I’m not talking about soldiering overseas, but rather about the challenges we face here at home in America to hold our resolve and our virtues.

“Enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people’s freedom,” as Franklin Roosevelt recognized during the peak of Japan and Germany’s aggression. He emphasized that America must be ready to act as “an arsenal” for people struggling against tyranny. With this principle in mind, Roosevelt concluded, “we will not be intimidated by the threats of dictators (against) our aid to the democracies which dare to resist their aggression.”

We are in such a time again, and we can’t avoid it no matter how much we may wish it to be over. “No peace can last, or ought to last,” Woodrow Wilson stressed, “which does not recognize and accept the principle that governments derive all their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Wilson, who was a pacifist, hated war, and desperately wanted to avoid it at all costs, belatedly understood America’s moral role in combating injustice declaring that “right is more precious than peace.”

Perhaps in the past we could wait until threats hit our shores. No longer. The terrorist threat is upon us, fed by large swaths of the planet in the trauma of tyranny, depredations and false ideologies. Some suggest peace can be had by turning our backs and not being provocative. It only needs to be pointed out that on September 11th, 2001, we weren’t in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the U.S. under Bill Clinton had pushed hard to achieve peace in the Middle East for years while that atrocity was being planned.

Thus we have a choice. It truly is between victory or defeat, because our enemies seek the destruction of our very way of life, and if you listen to what they say, our annihilation.

Teddy Roosevelt gave us guidance: “A milk-and-water righteousness unbacked by force is to the full as wicked as and even more mischievous than force divorced from righteousness.” Our military missions are absolutely critical to our own security as well as the prosperity and hopes for millions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Our goals to bring democracy to those parts of the world must go hand-in-hand. It isn’t vengeance, but virtue that we are all about.

America did not conquer and take parts of Europe and Japan after World War II. Instead, we liberated them, returned their nations to them, and gave them hope and prosperity such as they had never seen before. From this, we gained our own security and peace with them. “True security does not come from empire and domination,” explained George H.W. Bush. “True security can only be found in the growing trust of free peoples.”

Our values and security overlap with people’s basic search for happiness in every corner of the globe. America’s role as moral leader is a revolutionary ideal for the world. Throughout history, no such power has found contentment in the peaceful prospering of others to the same extent as does the United States. For this, we can be supremely proud. As Americans, we have a natural obligation as world leaders.

We must seize the moment of our brief lifetimes and stand up for what is right in the world. This we are doing today. The full burden of this, of course, falls mostly on our soldiers at this time of war. Those deployed are missing their families and homes. They know, though, that theirs is a vital mission, very real to our own security, and critical to the future well-being of civilization.

President Bush last Sunday asked us not to despair and lose hope. This would be, I think, a silly thing to do. While the news is so negative from Iraq, bear in mind that the realities on the ground there are actually far better and more hopeful. Polls taken of the Iraqi people found seventy percent feeling hopeful for their future and positive toward the U.S. mission there. Unemployment is down fifty percent from a couple years ago under Saddam’s tyranny, average income is up thirty percent, and nearly all of the violence is occurring in just four of Iraq’s eighteen provinces. It is wrong to lose hope. Instead, there is tremendous reason to be proud.

My wife and I periodically visit wounded soldiers at Walter Reed. Let me close by sharing another quote from Teddy Roosevelt that is popular there among the soldiers and speaks directly to all of us as we struggle with the political debates:

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

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