There is no doubt that veterans occupy a special place in the heart of any true American. Facebook feeds are seemingly always inundated with stories from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan of men and women who displayed remarkable degrees of courage in preforming their duty. Thanks to Youtube, we can watch hundreds of videos of service men and women surprising loved ones with an unexpected homecoming filled with tears of unimaginable joy (these are my personal favorites).
The number of views on these articles and videos are a testament to the fact that Americans love our troops. This should come as a surprise to no one. The question, however, still remains: Why do we love our troops so much?
The simple answer here is that we love our troops because they volunteered to defend our country. While this is true, I don’t think it is a full and proper explanation. I think support for our troops stems from the fact that they are committed to something greater than themselves. They are dedicated to a purpose which allows them to transcend the constraints of self interest and serve not only as protectors but also as honorable men and women that ought to be revered. As an oft forgotten line of “America the Beautiful” proclaims: veterans are people “who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!”
At this point in time I think that Americans are especially in need of our veterans. Somewhere along the line our country has seemed to lose its spirit. Americans seem to be lost in the woods, desperate for a higher purpose and hope for the future. Life seems to have devolved into petty calculations of pleasure versus pain, with people trying to numb themselves to the outside world by burying themselves in social media and technology. For too many people life consists simply of a nine to five corporate job followed by endless hours in front of ever expanding plasma screen televisions. Churches are no longer full and even when people do come together they hardly ever look up from their smartphone. It is now considered perfectly normal to declare that you have no interest in marriage or even having children because these traditional institutions simply hold you back from “enjoying” your life. How is one supposed to travel the world and fulfill their hedonistic desires if they are tied down by a spouse and children? The lowest common denominator in these cultural developments is selfishness, denying that there is anything more to life than your own calculus of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.
Some try to buck these dehumanizing trends in our culture by searching for meaning and purpose in their lives through religion, but they are often misled. For instance many young people declare that they are “spiritual, but not religious”. This means that they believe in God, but they don’t like the idea of belonging to a church. You shouldn’t need a Thomas Aquinas to figure out the flaw in this logic: God is about love and community, therefore you can only truly find God by communing with and loving your neighbor. No one can tackle life on their own. It is good that people feel a natural inclination toward God, but they must realize that God requires us to come together as a church is we wish to truly find solace in him.
So where do veterans come into this situation? They posses what many Americans wish they had: meaning and purpose in life that is beyond calculations of pleasure versus pain. Veterans are examples of selflessness in the face of danger and embody the idea that life is truly about the spiritual, not the physical. Humanity is not defined by cells in a biology lab but rather by the spirit of man, expressed in its fullest by a soldier who dies defending his comrades, or a spouse who cries hysterical tears of joy when they see their loved one step off the plane from Afghanistan, overwhelmed by the realization they are finally home. Life is essentially a struggle to be human, and deep down we all know that the sentiments embodied by service men and women are what truly define humanity. This is why I believe we love our veterans so much.