A few weeks ago, I spoke on the pro-Bush side of an informal debate at Yale, and an imposing middle-aged man with fierce white hair came up afterward to ask me where I got the nerve to support a president who sends young soldiers to their deaths? (Lots of approving nods.) By accusing President Bush of extorting something that soldiers have freely offered, he slandered the president and stole honor from the soldiers.
Some Americans who joined a peacetime military may be surprised to find themselves fighting in blood-drenched Middle Eastern tyrannies. But the American armed services speak loud and clear and constantly to their trainees about combat heroes and traditions — and combat unity, discipline, technique. They have never kept it a secret that they exist to fight wars.
A 17-year-old boy tried to explain to the white-haired man (in his straightforward, soft-spoken way) that those soldiers had chosen to be where they were; had understood and accepted the dangers; loved life just as much as the man did, but had different ideas about how to live it. The 17-year-old mentioned that he and a friend planned to join the Marines when they finished college. But he couldn't change the Bush-hater's mind.
It is worthy to note that soldiers commended for heroism all performed action beyond the call of duty. Beyond what is asked at risk to life and limb. It was that choice that is honored. Would the same action be honored had it been asked or ordered? And since our army is a voluntary one, that they chose to serve should also be honored.