Austin Bay delivered this Memorial Day speech in Texas a few days ago, at the request of a group called “Tejanos in Action.” Reading the speech, and speculating on what many of my liberal or leftist friends would think of it (and, knowing it’s always dangerous to speak for others, I’m writing this with the caveat that I could be wrong about their reactions), I came to the conclusion that I don’t think they would understand his speech in the way it was meant. To them, it would sound like mere platitudes and cliches.
I am virtually certain that all of my friends feel sorrow at the death of young men and women in the military–they are not cold-hearted, far from it. But I think they see them as victims, not as people who freely chose to do this, knowing that the possible cost might be their very lives. And yes, I know that not all in the military, especially those in the Guard, thought all of this through when they signed up. But I believe that the majority of those in the military were well aware of the risks when they enlisted.
I don’t think most of my friends can conceive of a person making such a choice of his/her own free will. And of course it is difficult to comprehend; that kind of courage is not ordinary, and will never be ordinary. I think my friends look on military volunteers of today as being either bloodthirsty warmongers (the minority), or poverty-stricken and brainwashed cannon fodder who have no idea what they’re getting into (the majority). Someone such as Lance Corporal Perez, of whom Austin Bay speaks, a young man who served in the Marines and was killed in Iraq, would probably be seen as the quintessential victim of Bush, Rumsfeld, et. al., because of his Hispanic heritage.
I think my friends would certainly understand this part of Bay’s speech:
Military service is hard service. Everyone who’s ever worn the uniform knows that. It is a special burden, particularly in a free society.
The idea of hardship is one with which they would agree, and the idea of burden. But not the sad necessity of it, expressed in this part of the speech:
In some ways it is the hardest job as well as the most necessary job. It is the job of the soldier that makes our liberty possible, and it is our liberty that makes everything else possible.
Many, if not most, of my friends live in a dreamworld where such things can be avoided, if only we listened to and revered the UN, Europe, and Jimmy Carter. There is no problem that can’t be solved with love, understanding, and talk. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but not by a whole lot, I’m afraid. Would that they were correct, and that human nature worked this way!
I was watching the news the other day–I think it was MSNBC, but I’m not certain. They had a feature on a young Hispanic man who had been killed in Iraq. I don’t think he was the same young man of whom Bay spoke, Lance Corporal Perez, but it’s possible that he might have been, because this man had also been nineteen years old when he died, as I recall. The news showed wonderful photos of a handsome and smiling young man who looked nearly like a kid (well, he wasn’t so far away from having been one, was he?), and an interview with his father.
The father’s courage and dignity were almost unbearably moving. It seems the young man was not a citizen, but he’d signed up anyway. The father showed some sort of memorial statuette of the twin towers that he owned, and he pointed to it and said that the son had been greatly affected by 9/11, and determined to join and serve. The father said he’d asked his son, if he had to join up, why couldn’t he be something like a cook? But the son had said no; he felt he needed to do more than that. Then the father went over to an American flag he had on his wall, and put his finger on one of the red stripes, and said something like this (only far more eloquently), “When I see this red stripe, it symbolizes the blood of my son and all the others who died so that we could be free–because freedom isn’t free.”
Heartbreaking and well said, on this Memorial Day.