Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans' Day

Throughout my life Veterans’ Day has been a time to honor those Americans who fought in World Wars I and II, Vietnam and the Korean War, and those who recently served in our struggle to win Iraqi freedom and in some part the ideological direction of world.

I’d like to pause this year to consider some veterans far removed from our living generations of American soldiers.

There is a road by a tavern in the state of New York where a strength of about one thousand men, with no weapons but muzzleloaders and pistols, and no armor but cloth jackets, stood to face ten thousand approaching British and Hessian soldiers. Having been deluged with images of modern wars I can hardly imagine what standing in that field on August 27th, 1776 felt like. You could fire perhaps two shots by long gun before it’s usefulness was exceeded, then you had what was in your pistol if you were lucky enough to have one, after that… bayonets and knives in immediate quarters. Are you ready? Here they come.

This was the first true battle of the American Revolution, the first battle fought by any American army: and we lost.

We did not only lose, we were roundly trounced. The British had forty cannons. We had three, and not in the right place. One unit that managed to hold their position did so at the loss of 90% of their men. Reportedly the British felt their honor in battle was besmirched by victory over such a sorry force.

Until 1783, for the next seven years, the men of a few wayward British colonies paid with their blood for the idea of a country that had yet to be created, for a notion that was untested, unproven, unreliable, and altogether new to the entire world. These men fought when we lost, and lost, and lost again. They burned the homes and fields they had built with their own hands so the British could find no sustenance there. They marched into nightmares where two walls of soldiers shot point-blank at each other at the agonizingly slow place of a musket reloading, the battle being over when one force broke and fled, or everyone lay dead.

All this, for an idea.

For the dream of America men fought when they had no food, when they had no ammunition, when they had no weapons at all, and often when they had no hope of victory, only of an honorable death.

We have been handed the deed that they bought so dearly over two hundred and twenty years ago. We have more riches and magic than could possibly be imagined by all those Revolutionaries combined. We have risen to Olympian heights over our humble beginnings, in an astonishingly short span of time. What I fear we are losing is the heart and courage of those on whose backs we stand. That deed slips farther out of our fingers every time we settle for the quick solutions, every time we become too timid and cowed to stand up for our place in the world, and worse, every time we refrain from teaching our children what a tremendous cost was paid for what they have.

This Saturday, when you take a moment to reflect on our Veterans, please include in your prayers or thoughts those that were brave enough to die for us before we even were. Keep their memory with you when you make decisions that will set the course of this nation, it is on the fields of their deaths we build our lives.

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