"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Thursday, May 10, 2007

History worth remembering

I'd planned to use this link long ago, but somewhere in between training, monitoring other current events, and cleaning up my baby's tenth spit-up of the day, it fell by the wayside. So now, with four hours of duty ahead and nothing to do, I'm dusting it off and offering it to you: 300 Then and Now.

The article itself is thoughtful and moving in its own right, but I'm not going to cover old ground on the topic of Thermopylae. I found the film selections equally thought-provoking (most of them worked as of yesterday, but no guarantees that they'll last). It is worth remembering, in the midst of a war where many things have gone wrong and ultimate victory is yet uncertain, that America, and indeed her cultural forefathers, have seen many other dark hours and triumphed. The English at Agincourt, with their feisty defense and victory over a superior French army, foreshadowed the eventual dominance of their tiny island over much of the world. America is the greatest child of that empire, and owes much to those English peasants and knights who, cold, wet, and far from home, maintained their ranks and refused to waver.

We owe an equal debt to the Union soldiers on Little Round Top, who may well have saved this nation from permanent fragmentation. Things were dark indeed: the Confederate army had assaulted their position again and again, thinning their ranks and depleting their ammunition until few had anything left to fire. They, too, were outnumbered, and their situation even more precarious. They held the extreme left flank of the entire Union army. Had they pulled out, rebel troops would have occupied the highest ground on the entire field, allowing their artillery to bombard every Federal position with impunity and their infantry to attack Union troops from the rear. Unlike British Royal Marines, who recently decided to surrender themselves without a fight and that armed confrontation was simply "not an option", Col. Chamberlain ordered his Maine troops to fix bayonets and charge a superior force. They won, saving the left flank, the Union army, and possibly the Union itself. Surrender and retreat would have been easy, maybe even expected; but American fighting men are not known for taking the easy way out.

Lt. Col. Hal Moore faced yet another dire situation in the Ia Drang valley in 1965. His battalion was surrounded by - again - a larger enemy force, and their only lifeline was a fleet of fragile helicopters based miles away. They too refused to waver, allowing Col Moore to keep his promise of bringing every man off the battlefield that he began with.

A quick trip through history, to be sure, and somewhat rambling. I find it instructional to remember, however, that the bended knee is not standard in the Western repertoire. It's also comforting to remember that American troops have overcome incredible odds on the battlefield while they have the means to defend themselves - sometimes even without them. We face tremendous odds on a battlefield today, and I have every confidence that American arms can again triumph - if given the chance.

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