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Why do our fallen ‘represent the greatest America has to offer?’

You see this phrase often when we lose a military service member in combat: “They were the best this country has to offer,” or “they were the best and brightest.” Like many repeated lines brimming with sentiment, some people mean it from the bottoms of their hearts, in full understanding and with the ability to explain, and others say it because it makes them feel good to say it. Of the latter group, some honestly believe it but don’t have the words to express themselves, so they repeat a line they’ve heard before that suits their feelings. Others repeat it because it presents themselves in a humble light.

They were killed in combat, yes. That’s a terrible tragedy, yes. But what makes that person, who probably did not want to die, so admirable? What quality do they really possess that we ought to look up and emulate?

It’s sort of a two part question: first you have to start by talking about serving your country and the men and women of our military who do that every day, and then you have to distinguish those who have given their lives in combat from those who haven’t.

To answer the first part in sort of a round-about way:

We seem super concerned with our words these days. I suppose we were always more concerned with our words than we ought to be, but now we’re oversaturated with them. People of all ages are forgetting that “talk is cheap” as they rant and rave on the internet and pat themselves on the back for “doing something.”

The truth of it is that actions speak louder than words. Most of us know it – at least, we know it deep down somewhere – that words mean next to nothing if they are not accompanied by tangible action. Agree with the wars they fight in or not, service members of the military volunteer to act. Not only are they giving themselves to a cause greater than themselves, but many of them are offering up their bodies in the process. If believers in political causes were willing to give that much sheer effort to their agendas, they’d have won over the country a long time ago.

So we’re on to the second part of the question: if you have a service member who (for example) joins the infantry, deploys into combat, is willing to give their lives, then what separates that person from the one who actually gives their life in combat? Are they not both ready to give it all? Why does one “represent the best our country has to offer?” and the other is still mostly respected, but not to that degree?

The answer is pretty straightforward, but I think it deserves a little explanation for those who believe it but haven’t quite articulated it before, or for those who don’t understand what people mean when they say these sorts of things while sharing an article about a fallen soldier in Afghanistan or something similar.

When I was in RASP (the selection course to get into the Ranger Regiment), there were a whole lot of folks concerned with what they could have done. Some wound up quitting, but many were injured or elected out for other legitimate reasons. A ton of people insist that they could have done it, but for whatever reason, legitimate or not, they didn’t. I don’t really have a problem with that, as long as they don’t go around bragging about something they could have done but ultimately didn’t.

Soldiers who go to war and return – many would have willingly given their lives, especially if it would have saved the life of someone they lost. But they didn’t, and that is the obvious distinction. It’s a distinction that survivors of a war respect deeply, a price they may have been willing to pay, but thankfully did not have to.

Giving your life for something you believe in is a tall order for anyone, especially if it’s not under the veil of trickery like a lot of religious extremism or political zealotry. Even if you have serious problems with the war, the things that drive a person to give themselves so entirely and so selflessly while knowing the hazards of their profession is a quality to be deeply admired. It’s a quality you wish you would see in every facet of our society, especially the upper echelons – corporate businesses, politics, banks – would that we had such men and women built of such raw selflessness running our country.

So when someones is killed in combat, they really do represent the best our country has to offer. They represent those who were willing to give it all in the service of the country we all enjoy, and then they actually turned around and gave it.

And we ought to honor them appropriately.


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2 years ago

Thank you for this . You have given voice to our feelings

Susan B
2 years ago

Powerful sentiments, Luke. And it is up to the military community and its supporters that are charged with keeping and honoring their memories. They are those that understand the costs of those sacrifices while much of the rest of the populace take their safety and liberties and benefits for granted. It has ever been so, sadly.

2 years ago

Luke, I have read this article at least 10 times. I love your sentiment here, but I feel like something is missing. You are describing a class of people, a certain mindset, conviction, passion. It extends beyond the military, when I read this, I also think of LEO’s, first responders, or others that willingly put themselves in harms way to defend others. I am not talking about harm of a slight nature, but one that could erase your own life. I love this write up, and you are correct, but every time I read it, I keep thinking about fallen… Read more »

2 years ago

Excellent Luke

2 years ago

Well said, Luke.

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