Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans Day

Today, November 11th, is Veterans Day, which honors all those who have served in the armed forces of the United States. It was formerly known as Armistice Day in honor of the cessation of hostilities of the Great War (1914-1918) on the Western Front, and first observed in 1919; the name and purpose of the holiday was changed in 1954 by an Act of Congress. In Canada and Australia, today is Remembrance Day, which is also held in the United Kingdom on the second Sunday of November: in these countries, this holiday has an observance similar to both Veterans Day and to Memorial Day, which commemorates the war dead.

General MacArthur noted that the cardinal virtues of a soldier are discipline, courage, and loyalty, which are little different from the classical virtues of temperance, fortitude, and justice. These virtues of controlling pleasure and fear, and of giving what is due to others, are not just soldierly virtues, but are universal, and indeed, are some of the minimum requirements for canonization as a Saint. Virtue hardly seems to matter when you watch television or walk down the street, but in life-or-death situations, where outcomes matter desperately, the need for virtue becomes blindingly clear. Not just soldiers, but any position of extreme responsibility requires virtue, so much so that we have to take a leap of faith and trust they will do their job well.

Fortunately, few of our veterans have actually seen battle, for actual war is in some sense, a failure of the purpose of a military, which in the greatest nations of the world, has been more concerned with keeping peace. For these veterans, we honor their other sacrifices: giving up family, friends, comfort, home, income, and freedom for sake of others, and with always the possibility of danger.

Our society has become cowardly, and the example of veterans can encourage virtue in everyone, even though the effete thinking of our culture infects (but hopefully not too successfully) the military. G.K. Chesterton, in his book Heretics (1905), describes some flaws in our modern thinking:

Now, Mr. [Rudyard] Kipling is certainly wrong in his worship of militarism, but his opponents are, generally speaking, quite as wrong as he. The evil of militarism is not that it shows certain men to be fierce and haughty and excessively warlike. The evil of militarism is that it shows most men to be tame and timid and excessively peaceable. The professional soldier gains more and more power as the general courage of a community declines. Thus the Pretorian guard became more and more important in Rome as Rome became more and more luxurious and feeble. The military man gains the civil power in proportion as the civilian loses the military virtues. And as it was in ancient Rome so it is in contemporary Europe. There never was a time when nations were more militarist. There never was a time when men were less brave. All ages and all epics have sung of arms and the man; but we have effected simultaneously the deterioration of the man and the fantastic perfection of the arms. Militarism demonstrated the decadence of Rome, and it demonstrates the decadence of Prussia... There was far more courage to the square mile in the Middle Ages, when no king had a standing army, but every man had a bow or sword....

As stated earlier, the virtue of a military man is just ordinary virtue, which tends to be largely lacking in contemporary America.

Today is also the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours, a 4th century Roman soldier who became a monk and bishop. His father was a Tribune in the Imperial Roman army, and at age 15, Martin served in the Emperor's Honor Guard; later he became a cavalry officer stationed in Gaul. He is a patron of soliders.


  1. Dear Son

    Very well written.
    Thank you.


  2. Dad,

    You are welcome. I was thinking of you when I wrote it.