Yesterday evening I received this picture from my son. He is a senior at Texas A&M and in the Corps of Cadets. If all goes as planned he will be commissioned as an officer in the United States Army. Just last week he received his branch assignment, Combat Engineers. He is thrilled.
As I think about this, it is only fitting that I received this picture on Veteran’s Day. November 11 was initially the day we commemorated the end of World War I—the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. However, contrary to the hopes of the time, World War I was not the war to end all wars. In the decades that followed, thousands of men and women have stepped up to serve in the United States military. November 11 is now a day to honor all of them.
Back in July I wrote this post about the growing gap between those who serve in the military and those who do not. I sent this post to Rochelle Reed, editor of the San Luis Obispo Tribune, who wrote of her disappointment when her son chose to join the Army. She responded with a cordial note that asked in all sincerity how I could reconcile my life of faith with service in the military. I sent her this response:
Every time a human being is killed it represents tragic human failure. The United States military does not seek out opportunities to kill. Rather, the military is a defensive body. The members of the military swear an oath to uphold and defend the ideals and principles of the American Constitution even to the point of giving their own lives. No one detests the horrors of war and seeks peace more than soldiers.
It is interesting that you should ask how a soldier can reconcile military service with the Commandment not to kill. I just spent last evening with Fr. Michael Duesterhaus. He is a Catholic priest and a Marine Chaplain. He has already done two tours in Iraq and will leave for a third tour in June. His work has taken him to the outermost reaches of Iraq. He fully supports and affirms the military mission in Iraq. He sees great value in the work done by our military there. He sees no contradiction in military service and the service of God.
I believe the reason for this is that the mission of the military in Iraq is to defend the freedom and dignity of every Iraqi citizen as this nation establishes itself as a democracy. When enemies of this mission try to undermine it with deadly violence, a military response with deadly force may be required. As I said above, every time a human being is killed it represents a tragic human failure. However, it is not always the failure of our military. If a policeman kills a criminal who is threatening to murder his hostages, it is not necessarily the failure of the policeman. I feel the same way about the use of military force. It should never be used wantonly. Every effort must be made to settle disputes via peaceful means. The use of military force represents a diplomatic failure.
The military does not decide when diplomacy has succeeded or failed. That is the job of statesmen. Notice I said statesmen, not politicians. Politicians have partisan agendas to increase their own power. Statesmen have no agenda other than to seek the greater good for their nation. I do believe we have far too many politicians in both political parties and not enough statesmen. When the military is told the nation needs the force the military can bring to bear, the soldier responds bravely. There is no joy in killing. There is no place for vengeance. The military should never be used to settle a score.
Has every decision to use military force been correct? No. Has every military member behaved with the integrity and honor expected of a soldier? No. Just as there are teachers, clergy, journalists, and politicians who betray the ideals of their profession, there are soldiers who do not live up to legacy of honor of the United States military.
I do hope you are proud of your son. It reflects very well on the job you have done as a parent that he will so generously serve a cause much greater than himself. I am sorry others have not communicated this to you. I hope that both you and your son are able to see that members of the military are not blood-thirsty war mongers. Rather they are honorable men and women seeking to do what is right for our country so that our democratic principles are preserved for future generations.