A soldier sends a gift from the other side, which makes me think about the daily gifts our troops give us

Private Chris Kershaw, 19, a British soldier, didn’t really send a gift from the other side.  What he did, though, was think about the ones who would be left behind in the event he died in battle, and he left them a letter:

The youngest of six British soldiers blown up by a Taliban bomb joked about his death in a final letter to his family which was read out at his funeral today.

More than 500 mourners turned out to say a tearful farewell to Private Chris Kershaw, 19, as he was laid to rest at his parish church in the village of Idle, near Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Family and friends packed the church of Holy Trinity while many more stood outside as the service was relayed over a loud speaker.

[snip]

Pte Kershaw wrote to his family: ‘This is to inform you of the unfortunate death of, well, me. I would like to explain that even though I don’t know how I died I am sure it was from some heroic act.

‘In the long run, I was doing the job I loved. This was my dream job and even though it had its ups and downs I loved every second of it.’

I am currently reading Marcus Luttrell’s Service: A Navy SEAL at War.  As I read, I keep thinking to myself (as everyone must when reading about the military generally and the SEALS specifically) “Wow, what amazing guys these are.  Highly intelligent, superbly fit, emotionally stable, deeply patriotic, supernaturally brave and stoic, adaptable, blessed with inhumanly quick reflexes, fun-loving, and with an almost saintly altruism when it comes to protecting their team, or the small, weak, and helpless.”

A few other things come through in Luttrell’s book.  As Private Kershaw wrote, these guys enjoy what they do.  While I like a vigorous and relatively safe work-out followed by a hot shower, a cuddle with my dog, some quiet time at the computer, lunch with a friend, a bit of desk work, time with my kids, etc., these guys enjoy practicing how to shoot at each other from speeding cars, and find it invigorating to patrol Iraqi streets riddled with IEDs and showered by bullets.  They are a breed apart.

Not only do many of our volunteer fighters enjoy what they do, many of them die doing, or sustain terrible, irreparable injuries while on the job.  Every time Luttrell describes one of those deaths (e.g, Michael Mansoor, Marc Lee, Jon Tumilson, or the Operation Red Wings Team), I get so upset I have to stop reading and regroup before I can get back to the book.  Luttrell doesn’t wallow in the deaths, although he honors these men by remembering them and their sacrifice.  I’m the one wallowing.

Aside from each individual tragedy, I also feel that, every time one of these men dies, our society loses someone a little more special than the average Joe (or Jane).  These are the leaders, the do-ers, the moral guides — and they’re the ones who are first in line when the bullets fly.  We need them most, yet they’re the most likely to leave us behind.  That’s just so wrong at a global level.  And yet of course, it’s quite right at an individual level.  These guys wouldn’t be the leaders, do-ers and moral guides that they are if they lived my safe, confined, dull little life.  Being true to themselves means taking risks, and that’s just the way it is.

For those of us looking on from the sidelines, though, there is some comfort in Private Kershaw’s words:  “In the long run, I was doing the job I loved. This was my dream job and even though it had its ups and downs I loved every second of it.”

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  • jj

    Apropos your “enjoy what they do” remark.  The one most positive thing about a volunteer force is that it cuts right down to the core.  There’s no need to wade through a hundred conscripts to dig out the one who wants to do it, what we have today is a self-selected cohort of those who want to do it.
     
    Sitting in a tent in Louisiana on a summer night in the summer of 1940, William Bradford Huie had a conversation with (what he describes as a “pensive”) George S. Patton.  (Interesting, too, that Patton, in the summer of 1940, was perfectly clear on what was coming, and what America would have to do.  Foresight was right there along with his other virtues.)
     
    Quoting Huie quoting Patton:  “Yes, by God, I am worried.  I’m worried because I’m not sure this country can field a fighting army at this stage in our history.  (My interjection.  This is 1940, remember – Patton, it seems, may not have been a whole-hearted admirer of the “greatest generation.”)  We’ve pampered and confused our youth.  We’ve talked too much about rights and not enough about duties.  Now we’ve got to try to make them attack and kill.  A big percentage of our men won’t be worth a goddam to us.  Many a brave soldier will lose his life unnecessarily because the man next to him turns yellow.  We’re going to have to dig down deep to find our hard core of scrappers.  That takes time, and time is short.  I’ve lived my life in the shadow of the flag, and I say, God help the United States!”
     
    What the volunteer force does for you is front-load the “dig down deep to find the hard core of scrappers” part.  These guys are there because they are the scrappers.  They do enjoy what they do; they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t.  The force comes out of the box  winnowed down to them, you don’t have to spend time and energy winnowing.  It’s a great advantage, and it’s why the military itself stands opposed to a draft.   

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Perhaps you understand now how WWI was the single act that set the tone for an entire 100 years of human history.

    The brave went to war and were sent into meat grinders to be killed so that the old aristocrats in the military and politics could survive back home. What happened afterwards? France, a nation of cowards could only be expected.

    And perhaps now you understand why Obama continued the war in Afghanistan, yet didn’t give full political backing to General McChrystal, Petraeus’ replacement, in Afghanistan. Resulting in as much as twice the casualties in Afghanistan per year as under Bush. Getting rid of absentee ballots, you see, wasn’t enough for some people…

     I get so upset I have to stop reading and regroup before I can get back to the book.  Luttrell doesn’t wallow in the deaths, although he honors these men by remembering them and their sacrifice.  I’m the one wallowing.”

    This came up in a work of art about life and death drama in war before. Many civilians simply cannot stomach the thought of so much lives lost, because you are taught that in the West, and in America, your lives are the most valuable commodity you have. You not yet been acclimated to a world, or belief system, where something can become more valuable than your own life. Or at least, you cannot visualize or imagine what that something might be such that these deaths are worth it. Patriotism, love of country, duty, these aren’t strong enough motivations for civilians or for the military at that. These are long term goals. Humans can think in abstract terms due to imagination and reason, but that is not enough to handle the sheer emotional stress of war and life.

    In order to handle these matters, you must have a strong foundation in emotion. Use emotion to balance emotion. In a sense, it’s not very rational. It’s very subjective in that every person must find a personal reason for fighting, not simply an abstract/long term one. Whatever motivates people to keep on fighting despite the emotional trauma of death and life, is good enough. Many people fight because while the loss of their buddies is hard, quitting would disgrace those memories and leave the deaths of their brothers in vain. Thus it hurts them to continue the fight, yet it would hurt them even more if they just gave up and thought the mission pointless. Although some do become bitter due to such circumstances. These are usually deadlined or routed out of war theaters permanently, because they have been effectively KIAed or their morale has certainly been killed. Those are the exceptions, not the majority.

    I would rather die having spoken in my manner, than speak in your manner and live. For neither in war nor yet in law ought any man use every way of escaping death. For often in battle there is no doubt that if a man will throw away his arms, and fall on his knees before his pursuers, he may escape death, if a man is willing to say or do anything. The difficulty, my friends, is not in avoiding death, but in avoiding unrighteousness; for that runs deeper than death.

    To be honest I do not think whether they live or die is the matter at hand. Life is not always better than death. It is not that simple. Living and being made to live are very different things. What matters is what the person chooses of their own free will. Whether or not it can be achieved or how difficult it is.
    I want you to think about this: imagine if what matters most to you was taken away against your will. If that is indeed worth less than your life

    Reading these words are easy enough, Book. But actually believing in them… truly believing in them, takes a kind of paradigm shift that most civilians will never, ever, be able to accomplish. Until you have found something you believe in strongly enough to fight as they do, it will be hard for you to sustain your morale to take such losses without being demoralized. Imagine how you would feel if someone you knew from childhood and had been best friends throughout school and adult life, had been killed by enemy fire in front of your eyes. To be able to overcome the pain of death, when it is that close to you, when it hurts that much, when it isn’t just a second or third person account from somebody else who is filtering out the pain and providing more good than bad, you will need a motivation stronger than steel. This has nothing to do with physical strength or athletic ability; it is something of the heart and of the spirit.

    Btw, it has never mattered what a person was doing at the time they achieved such a motivation. Spartan mothers once said “come back on your shield or with it” when saying farewell to their sons traveling to the battlefield. It meant that if they didn’t come back with their shield or on it (being carried as in a body bag), the mother will disown that son and curse him for being a dishonorable and cowardly wretch that should never have lived. (warriors when running from the battlefield would almost always discard their weapons and shield to run faster) Consider what kind of personal and social motivation that came from. 

    The truth of the matter is, if you believe Christian dogma, Earth is ruled by Satan, not God, and Satan was cast down to Earth, not Hell, after St. Michael the Archangel defeated the Dragon (snake/lucifer). Which sorta means that right now, humans are weak and open to temptations. Thus it gets rather hard to motivate a bunch of civilians living in peaceful mall like American suburbia to find a way to improve their personal courage and characters. Shrugs. In the final sum total, people who lack true belief are essentially worth less than those who act on such beliefs. I might even say terrorists, at least the ones willing to kill themselves plus others, are worth more in terms of life to God or humanity, than the Leftists that cry anti-war yet are pro-war when it suits them.

     

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

     It’s a great advantage

    It’s also a critical disadvantage, since when the Left controls the Presidency, they know that any wars they begin or end, like Somalia, will only produce casualties amongst certain “political voting demographics” which they need not concern themselves with.