Most of us have seen the bumper stickers that say, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” And while teachers may be responsible for helping generations of children acquire the technical ability to read, that technical ability presumes that there is something worth deciphering in the letters on the page. In other words, we just assume that the ideas expressed in what we are reading have merit, whether we agree with them or not.
It’s called free speech. And for that, we should be thanking those who have served this country in uniform over the past 200 years. It is our veterans who have protected our right to express thoughts, or to meet without fear, or to dissent, or to pray — often with their life’s blood.
When it comes to our military, we are too often a nation of contradictions. We fill the television screen with epic and inspiring movies about those who have served in the past, and malign those who serve in the present. We build memorials to those who have fallen in defense of this nation, and argue about the cost of care for those who survived the fight. It’s as if we are proud of the military of the past, but uncomfortable with the military of the present.
Unfortunately, the world is still a dangerous place. The November 10 edition of the Arabic paper in London, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, carries a front page article proclaiming that al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on the United States in the near future. The article says that the attack will be even more devastating than September 11.
Whether or not the predictions in the article come to pass, the very fact of the warning should be enough to remind us that there are those in the world intent on the destruction of America and her freedom. In the struggle between these fanatics and our nation, words will not protect us.
Our protection rests with those who, like their comrades-in-arms before them, are willing to put themselves in harm’s way. And like their predecessors, some of these men and women will pay with their lives for our freedom.
About a year ago, a young Navy petty officer was returning home for the holidays. He was in uniform. The flight attendant asked him if he was 21 because she was going to treat him to a beer for his service. He wasn’t. The man across the aisle heard the exchange, and told the Navy fellow that he wanted to spit at him. Surprised, the serviceman asked why. The response was that military people were all war criminals.
The young petty officer considered that remark for a moment, and then thanked the man. He reminded the civilian that he only had the right to insult a member of the military because of the freedom Americans enjoyed – freedom that the very petty officer the civilian was insulting was willing to defend with his own life.
So, if you can read this, thank those whose sacrifice bought, and continues to protect our freedom. Thank those who have served — and thank those who serve today.
Happy Veteran’s Day!