Major Paul Carron has died in Afghanistan.
I did not know him, but his letter to the editor of the Washington Times (published March, 2006) spoke of the bravery and courage of the young men and women who serve in our military, and it has made him something of a celebrity among veterans. It was written in response to criticisms of our troops, characterizing them as young people without the skills or talent to do anything else; his defense of the sacrifices that these people make is an eloquent statement of a Great Truth about our military.
The context which prompted him to write that letter was a disconnect between what he saw on the battlefield and what people back in the States see in our schools and on our streets. He writes of that Great Truth of our military, which is that our all-volunteer force is made up of people who have offered up their lives in order to do whatever the rest of us have asked them to do - through our duly elected government, of course - forfeiting much of their claim to the everyday conveniences that we take for granted.
I would go farther and say that our military members give up far more than that - they give up more than their own lives. They give up "normal" family life, or any hope of great financial reward, and they submit themselves and their loved ones to exactly the kind of top-down social bureaucracy that many of them believe they are fighting against. The Great Truth that Major Carron wrote about is that the act of joining and serving our military is a transformative act; everyone who decides to serve, no matter what their skills or opportunities were on the outside, must give up the same things and accept the same responsibility to the country, and that means that we all owe them a measure of respect regardless of what they were before they made that choice.
There is something else that we owe them, as well. While not everyone is able to make that same sacrifice, everyone one of us has a duty to ensure that our military is not asked to do things that betray our values. If we are going to separate them from their families and send them into places where the people they are trying to help want to kill them, we need to be absolutely certain that we understand what their mission is, and that our representatives in government are making the decision to use our forces to accomplish that mission only after everything else has been tried.
I don't believe we have done that.
This is not about whether war is right or wrong; this is about whether we have done everything we can do to honor the sacrifices of our veterans. This is about whether you, as a voter, have bothered to find out whether the bills our Congress passes pay for armor or to treat those injured in our adventures. This is about whether you bother to seek out the news of the wars we are in, or simply switch over to a "reality" show and complain the next day about the lack of coverage.
This is about whether you are fulfilling YOUR duty to our servicemembers. That may mean disagreeing with some of them; many of them gain a lot of wisdom in their service, but none of them are perfect. But what makes them heroic and honorable is that they fulfill their commitments. You have commitments, too, and one of them is to stay informed and use your voice to keep this country on track.
I have seen a lot of polls and a lot of articles lately, decrying America's "direction". I have seen a lot of anger directed at our elected officials. Some of them deserve it, others are doing the best they can. But they are all a reflection of us. When I look at how messed up Congress is, and how ignorant many of our representatives are, I am looking into a mirror; and so are you.
Major Carron has died in Afghanistan. He was doing what he thought was right, and carrying out our orders. What orders did you give him? And what will you decide to do next?
And who will your decision honor?