On November 11, 1918 the “Guns of August” fell silent, and the First World War—the “War to End All Wars”—mercifully came to an end. The fighting began after a quarter century of peace in Europe, when many believed that a rise in economic prosperity and a general recognition of human rights had made war a thing of the past.
Armistice Day, now better known as Veteran’s Day, initially signified the end of what had been the deadliest conflict in human history up until that time. However, it eventually came to be memorialized in the United States as an occasion to honor and thank veterans of all our nation’s wars.
Americans have a long history of supporting those who have served in the armed forces. That tradition, passed down from the American Revolution until the present time, has held American soldiers in high regard for more than just their bravery and service. Americans support their troops because our soldiers fight to protect a system that they ultimately believe in: a constitutional republic built on an edifice of “We the People,” dedicated to protecting our individual rights as described in the Declaration of Independence.
President Andrew Jackson summed this relationship between Americans and their troops up perfectly in 1833 when he wrote in a letter to a friend, “It was not for territory or state power that our revolutionary fathers took up arms; it was for individual liberty and the right of self-government.”
For those who have faith that the system as passed down by the Founding Fathers is inherently good, supporting veterans and thanking them for their service seems natural.
It is particularly fitting that this year’s Veteran’s Day comes shortly after the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall. This event was a culmination of a half-century Cold War that had at times had grown hot. That day marked, at least temporarily, a victory for the principles of self-government and individual liberty so brutally suppressed by the Soviet regime. The people of East Berlin had so much contempt for their own government that authorities found it necessary to construct a wall, laced with barbed wire and bristling with machine guns, to keep people trapped in their socialist paradise.
A simple test of what people think of the American system compared to others is that there is a clamor to get in from people all over the world, not a desperate scramble to escape. As economist Milton Friedman stated in defense of capitalism, freedom and the West, “if you want to know how people feel—ordinary people feel—about different systems, you ask how they vote with their feet.”
Today, there are other, violent threats to America. On September 11, 2001, radical Jihadists funded by an Islamist billionaire demolished a symbol of American capitalism—the World Trade Center, attacked the command center of the American military—the Pentagon, and attempted to destroy a symbol of the civil will of the American people—the White House. Nearly 3,000 Americans were killed that day by individuals espousing views that were vehemently, murderously opposed to notions of individual rights, religious liberty, and self-government by a sovereign people. This was not an attack by an oppressed minority or the economically deprived, it was a blow struck by those who see the radical principle of freedom as a threat to their ideology.
In a world of mass media the peddlers of radical Islam cannot entirely suppress free trade and the free expression of ideas. They have naturally turned to violence and conquest to stamp these ideas out and are today committed to constructing a caliphate in the Middle East as the ultimate expression of their outlook. The United States has relied deeply on its military to keep these groups at bay.
Veteran’s Day has come this year with many odes to the soldiers that have defended the American way of life against an array of hostile nations and ideologies, yet there are a few exceptions. For those who see American civilization as fundamentally bad, oppressive, or dangerous to their worldview there is a good reason to have contempt for this nation’s men and women in uniform.
Salon recently posted an article chiding the American Veteran’s Day tradition titled, “You don’t protect my freedom: Our childish insistence on calling soldiers heroes deadens real democracy.” Perhaps in reaction to the drubbing progressive politicians took in the recent midterm elections, some members of the American left have returned to the instinctual anti-Americanism that has pervaded liberal politics since the height of the Cold War.
Salon contributor David Masciotra wrote, “Put a man in uniform, preferably a white man, give him a gun, and Americans will worship him. It is a particularly childish trait, of a childlike culture, that insists on anointing all active military members and police officers as ‘heroes.’” According to Masciotra, this tradition of venerating “military or law enforcement betrays a frightening cultural streak of nationalism, chauvinism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism.”
Underneath these one-dimensional and out-of-touch statements is the dripping revulsion of what the United States military stands for, the system that it protects, and ultimately the American people—the “democracy” Mascriota claims to hold in such high esteem. Veteran’s Day in American does not involve “hero worship” or a lust for violence. It is a nod to those who have worn the uniform and served honorably in our country’s wars, combined with a respect for American institutions.
One can be critical of any war or how it is conducted without hating the country; criticism and the freedom of speech are an essential part of free society. However, not every threat to the United States can be deterred by what Americans may see as the self-evident truth of their ideas. Most Americans have enough common sense to know that our liberties would be in dire straights if we only employed lawyers and academics to defend our Constitution.
In a famous speech dedicating the Bunker Hill monument in 1825, the great orator and patriot Daniel Webster spoke for generations of Americans who understood the necessity of soldiers to a free country. Webster said to the veterans who had survived the Revolutionary War and were in attendance on that summer day:
All is peace; and God has granted you this sight of your country’s happiness ere you slumber in the grave forever. He has allowed you to behold and to partake the reward of your patriotic toils; and he has allowed us, your sons and countrymen, to meet you here, and in the name of the present generation, in the name of your country, in the name of liberty, to thank you!
It is altogether fitting and proper to keep the American tradition of setting aside at least one day a year to acknowledge the service and sacrifice of America’s veterans and to thank them for representing the American way in our country’s uniform.