Veneration & The Military

One of the biggest surprises of my trip to London last year was the integration of British military history into the rest of English society. Statues and monuments are everywhere in London. It seemed like every park, abbey, church, and public square somehow reflected upon Britain’s military past. Leaders like Slim, Churchill, Montgomery have several statues and were seemingly buried in multiple places.

If you want to experience military history in the United States, you go to Washington D.C. or one of the many battlefields scattered across the nation. London’s version of Arlington National Cemetery seemed to be every church, including St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

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Interestingly, statues in Edinburgh praise literary and scientific accomplishments. Weird…

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London also highlighted some interesting gender distinctions in military remembrance. Churchill. Wellington. Nelson. The names are as towering as their statues and memorials. Warriors mounted upon noble steeds, ready to charge into glorious battle. The man is important.

London’s Monument to the Women of World War II is different. There are no faces. There is no horse. Just the uniforms from the many roles women performed. It is not the person who’s important. It’s the job.

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In the United States, we have an odd relationship with the military. On one hand, our veterans and servicemembers are praised a lot. They enjoy nearly unparalleled public respect and social status.

On the other hand, most people don’t have any military experience or much military knowledge. Our all-volunteer military means that most people remain aloof to the military or its use. Returning soldiers find that even their most basic educational, career, or psychological needs are rarely met or properly funded. They are sent into harm’s way without clear purpose or orders, and without proper supply.

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My own relationship with the military is bizarre as well. An early interest in military history instilled in me great respect for the military and the sacrifices of our soldiers, sailors, and pilots. The things they have gone through are truly beyond my ability to describe. I believe that public service is a person’s highest calling and sacrifice the noblest human trait. Every soldier does the former and is prepared to do the latter.

At the same time, I don’t believe soldiering is the most important job in our society. Farmers feed us. Doctors heal us. Lawyers protect our rights. Teachers help us reach our potential. Mechanics give us the means to do all these things. Parents raise the next generation. Everyone plays an important role in our society.

Ultimately, I’m not convinced that killing or dying for your country is the only or best way to serve it.

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If there is a key here, it is to strike the proper balance. To know the importance of the military without becoming militaristic. To know and honor our military past without becoming prisoner to it.

To honor, respect, fairly compensate, and take care of those who stand or stood ready to fight, kill, and die for you, all while doing your part to create a society and a world that renders them obsolete.

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