A friend of mine raised a legitimate concern regarding a Wilfred Owen poem I posted on Memorial Day: I was focusing too heavily on soldiers’ suffering and thereby short-changing the benefits that can come with their sacrifice. What followed then was a fun analysis of Owen’s historical context and some good discussion of valor and well-done war films. He was also good enough to suggest an alternate poem for me, Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade“.
To focus on my friend’s original point, I must apologize if anyone thinks I’m denying American heroism, or more generally heroism during war time. That is not my intention.
Although I am critical of war and war time practices, I fully recognize the place that the military has in society and its potential to be a force for peace (pun intended). I am a huge supporter of nonviolence and demilitarization can be great, but getting rid of all armed forces everywhere is not realistic. Getting rid of war entirely is also unrealistic, but we can change how we conduct ourselves during war in order to make them shorter and less damaging to the global society. How and when the military may used for peace is a topic worthy of further study, but I’ll list a few criteria that I consider crucial:
- Civilian control. A good military has to be accountable to its nation’s citizens. Otherwise, they’re just a bunch of thugs.
- The ability to work well with others. In the modern world, troops aren’t the only ones with influence in conflict zones. Local resistance to the common enemy, international forces, aid workers, community leaders, etc. are all vital allies to have in your corner. A military that has a hostile relationship with any of these groups is bound to fail in any of its goals.
- Chivalry. A solid code of ethics helps build trust with allies like the ones mentioned above, and also allows its nation’s citizens to take pride in them.
There are certainly many examples of these criteria being applied to the American armed forces, though it takes a lot of upkeep. So in addition to recognizing the hardships of being a soldier on Memorial Day, its just as important to remember the good that soldiers have done, and paid for with their life, and renew our commitment to promoting the values they died for.
Are you army, ex-army, or just have a lot of opinions on security forces? Share them in the comments section!© Marc Gopin