The last drive home

One of the things I struggle to explain to my kids is that “the military,” in the abstract, is neither good nor bad. Nor does size matter. David and Goliath is an inspiring story, because we like to see the little guy win. However, David also had right on his side. As I’ve said time and again to my kids, there are bad underdogs. Just because you’re a little organization, or country, or army, does not mean that you are morally right.

What matters, always, is the cause for which a specific country or military stands. Does the country or military seek to subjugate and enslave people? Then it’s bad. Does it seek to protect people from those who would enslave them? Then it’s good.

As to that last, protecting others’ freedom is a uniquely American concept. There have always been countries that fought against a deadly threat to their lives and land, whether it was the last vestiges of the Roman Empire fighting against the Huns, the British fighting the Napoleonic juggernaut, or the British (again) standing against the Nazis. A beneficial by-product of these defensive fights was the destruction of a brutal enemy intent on taking over the known world. Only Americans have fought for the abstract concept known as freedom, and only Americans have been willing to rip their country apart at home for freedom or take that same fight abroad.

I raise this issue because two stories crossed my radar today, both about men who fought and died to bring freedom to strangers in far away lands. The first death was that of Darrell “Shifty” Powers, one of the heroes of World War II. He survived the war, and led a long and productive life afterwards. As punishment for being a war hero and a good citizen, the establishment virtually ignored his death. Blackfive is seeking to remedy that situation, and you can read about a life well lived here.

More recently there was another death that might have passed without notice, if it hadn’t been for the citizens of Georgia. On June 4, 2009, Sgt 1st Class John C. Beale, 39 years old, was killed in action in Afghanistan. What saved him from being another “grim milestone” in the war against the Islamic fanatics who wish to dominate all points on the globe, was a single announcement in a newspaper, and the patriotism and gratitude of those citizens in Georgia who found themselves between the airport and the cemetery. The video of Sgt. Beale’s last trip home is here. It’s 12 minutes long, and you will feel ripped in pieces by being simultaneously inspired and heartbroken.

Because we’re human, we make mistakes, whether as a country or a military. Because we’re human, we have both good people and bad people and, sometimes, it seems as if the bad people are running things. But because we’re American, our goals and our attitude always incline us towards freedom. And our history, and the stories of Darrell “Shifty” Powers and Sgt. Beale, show us that freedom is the greatest moral restraint and the greatest humanizing influence imaginable.

Cross-posted at Bookworm Room

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