Honor Veterans by not Sacrificing

By Wayne Dunn (Posted November 10, 2001)

The purpose of Veterans' Day is to recognize and remember those who courageously defended America. But now with our uniformed men and women engaged in combat in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks, this year the day takes on a particularly poignant meaning.

The best way to honor our veterans is not with speeches, parades and flag-flying, though all those things are wonderful and inspiring. The best way to honor them is to insure that the freedom they fought for, and which our future veterans are currently fighting for, is safeguarded: by demanding to our politicians that we win this war.

Attacked on our own soil, this is the least controversial war in American history; the average citizen needs no cajoling. But what most of them probably don't realize is that our efforts are already being undercut by an idea that will manifest in its gentlest form in Veterans' Day ceremonies across the land: the word "sacrifice" will repeatedly be invoked to praise our heroes' finest actions.

That term, however well-intentioned the sentiment may be, is for the most part innocently misused when describing the deeds of those who love and protect freedom. But if sacrifice were to be consistently accepted as an ideal, and not merely ritualistically intoned, our beloved way of life would ultimately be destroyed.

This requires some explaining.

The clearest definition of "sacrifice" I ever encountered comes from philosopher Ayn Rand who described it as: "the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or a non-value." Anything else is not a sacrifice but a matter of self-interest. Thus, if freedom ranks among your highest values - if existing under the boot heel of oppression is a non-value - then fighting for the liberty you cherish isn't sacrificial, but is to your utmost, personal self-interest. For the freedom-lover, the prospect of dying in a war is tragic enough, but enslavement would be even worse.

How the culture at large defines and regards sacrifice isn't just a matter of semantic hair-splitting. For military personnel particularly, it's an issue of life and death.

Consider, for instance, the generation of Germans who spawned Nazism; they believed that the individual is properly an agent of self-sacrifice for the state, for the race. Hitler was the result. Consider the masses of Russians fed Communism; they swallowed the idea that the individual is nothing but a surrogate of self-sacrifice for the "the greater good," for the Proletariat. Stalin was their prize. Consider Islamic fundamentalists; they contend that the individual is a vessel of self-sacrifice for religious faith, for Allah. Dictatorships have been their reward.

But America is different. It was based on the enshrinement, not the sacrifice, of the individual. Indeed, possessing the inalienable rights to one's own life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is simultaneously, but not coincidentally, the most selfish and the most sacrosanct American ideal - an ideal that doesn’t evaporate upon donning our nation's uniform.

People join the US military, not because they have some masochistic yearning to transform themselves into sacrificial animals, but for the exact opposite reason: They personally value liberty so highly that they are willingly to undergo some hardships, to potentially lose life and limb, to defend it. For such patriots, freedom merits risking death to maintain.

Sacrifice? That's the enemies' gig, not ours. Whether fascists, communists or fanatic religionists, self-sacrifice is their common theme song. We, by contrast, sing a song of self-interest (though sometimes off key), of each individual's sacred ownership of his or her own life.

But despite America's founding credo, some politicians would have the U.S. immerse itself in sacrificial policies - which can only lead to the proliferation of spectacles such as flashed across our TV screens over the past few years: our soldiers' mangled bodies being dragged through the streets of Somalia, a gaping hole in the USS Cole, two American embassies blown to rubble. Met with what? Passivity, timidity, appeasement. Leading to what? The suicide murders of Sept. 11.

That's the face of sacrifice. And it is evil.

This war, unlike our excursions in Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo, is based on self-defense. And for that reason we must insist that our leaders stop undermining the war effort by injecting it with elements of selfless sacrifice, whether it's feeding enemy civilians, placating Arab potentates, turning our youngsters into charity workers for Afghan children, observing our foe's religious holidays or anything of the like. For the sake of ourselves and our veterans-in-the-making, President Bush must prove more interested in preserving innocent Americans than he is in preserving "innocent" Afghanis, who now must shoulder the burden for the barbarous behavior of the oppressors they were too sheepish to overthrow.

Americans did not seek this war, but we must not fail to win it. We must boldly assert our moral right to uphold our self-interest rather than sacrifice it for the sake of freedom's enemies. I can think of no better way of honoring yesterday's, today's, and tomorrow's veterans.


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© COPYRIGHT 2001 by Wayne Dunn