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The website of Florida Veterans Programs and Projects, Inc.

The website of Florida Veterans Programs and Projects, Inc.


Veterans Day Show - 2009



























Dulce et Decorum Est: The Importance of Veterans, a Personal Reflection
By Matthew Sills

“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” – it is sweet and right to die for your country. These well known words ironically conclude Wilfred Owen’s famous World War I poem, Dulce et Decorum Est, which tells of the horrors of war. The words, Owen’s poem says, are a lie. Such a point of departure for one’s thought leads to a profound meditation on the importance veterans, not as bronze memorials, clean and kept gleaming in the sunlight, but as the human beings who, though afraid and dirty, nevertheless braved the horrors of the battlefield for the sake of future generations. In light of this, veterans are important for two reasons. First and foremost is their sacrifice for the liberty of the future, but second, and perhaps more importantly, is what can be learned about war and human nature from their experiences.

    The work of veterans is always a sacrifice. They are called to leave their family, friends, and often other jobs in order to serve the country, and whether an individual served in peace time or during a war, the significance of a veteran’s work cannot being to be understood without first acknowledging that they all begin with a mentality of sacrifice. It is the same mentality that both augments and tempers the spirit of American innovation. It is an understanding that what is good is meant to be shared with all, that unless others are aided by or can draw from what we do, our actions are all essentially incomplete. Therefore, when a veteran serves, he or she makes a commitment to go beyond the individual and affirms not just the community but the future. Sometimes this commitment means fighting to protect that community, but the work of servicemen is always an affirmation foremost.

    In the unfortunate extreme of war, the ideas of service and the affirmation of goodness, life, and community can become twisted, as humans expose their shadows to one another. Yet in seeming contradiction, arguably the most poignant stories of love for one’s comrades and sometimes mercy have been recorded in the midst of war. Such phenomena point to a resilient core within the human spirit that nevertheless manages to shine whether in the muck of the Ardennes or in the dust of Afghanistan. Combat veterans especially have something important to contribute in this respect, as those who have seen the horror involved when men set out to kill one another. The voices of veterans, forged in the experience of war, can become the future voices of peace. Wilfred Owens served with the British in World War I, leaving many poems recounting the horror of war. Similarly, American writer Tim O’Brien writes about Vietnam and that war’s vicious dehumanization of all involved. Sadly, this aspect of the veteran’s voice is the least heard in the mainstream.

    To me, therefore, the importance of veterans cannot be overstated. Indeed, it is not uncommon for veterans to become community leaders, showing their continuing affirmation of those around them and the understanding that goodness can only reach fullness when placed in a community that can share it. Moreover, veterans have never existed in a vacuum; they are important as models of the spirit of sacrifice. Their spirit is one finely nuanced, not a platitudinous self-sacrificing, but rather a spirit which both affirms the “I” and simultaneously acknowledges that the “I” is not the most important. In turn, when a serviceman is called to give up his or her life the sacrifice means something because of the loss of a great “I.”

    Finally, just as we incur a great debt to veterans for their labors and the examples they have set, veterans continue to have a moral obligation to the world, and the world needs veterans who will fulfill such an obligation. Veterans are the best tools to educate new generations, not only about the good things – service and seeing the good as to be shared – but about dark underside of humanity. Without the lessons of veterans history is simply doomed to repeat itself with new conflicts fought by new generations. The words of veterans can be more effective stopping a bullet, in seeing that it is never fired, than all the technological advances to come out of wars themselves. In a time like ours where the potential for conflict is understood by all, there is a desperate need for what veterans have to offer. If indeed, veterans represent an affirmation of the good, then their examples and words are important.