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“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.” – G.K. Chesterton
This is Memorial Day weekend. Although the traditional start of summer, Memorial Day has a serious purpose. It is not the day we honor our veterans. It is the day we honor those that died in the service of our country, those who gave “the last full measure of devotion.”
A serviceman or woman does not typically die for their country. More often they die for their buddies. They throw themselves on a grenade knowing they will die, but also knowing that sacrifice will save those around them, the ones with whom they have been campaigning or training with. Or they charge a machine gun nest hoping to take it out so that it does not kill more of their buddies. Although they know there is a high probability that they might die, their hope is that sacrifice will mean others might live.
Seventy-five years ago this country had plenty of that kind of courage. In 1945 Chester Nimitz observed, “Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.” Today?
I am not so sure. A woman was attacked on a New York City subway this week. No one in the car bothered to intervene, despite her pleas for help. They were content to record the attack on their cell phones. Dealing assistance, dealing justice was someone else’s job, not theirs.
At Uvalde, TX, nearly a dozen police officers stood around for 90 minutes while a gunman shot down innocent elementary school students. I doubt they lacked the physical courage to risk their lives going up against the gunman. What they lacked was the moral courage to ignore a superior who made a bad judgment call, and told them to wait for a barricade situation to resolve itself, when they were instead dealing with an active shooter. The situation ended only when three Border Patrol agents decided “to hell with this,” and attacked without (and potentially against) orders.
Sadly, that kind of courage appears to be the exception rather than the rule. Think of all those who passively submitted to vaccine mandates last year, even when they felt it was wrong, even morally wrong. We have bred a generation — perhaps two generations — of gutless weaklings. Not physical weakness, but moral weakness.
We still have a few people still willing to do the right thing, still willing to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to do so. But there are too few, and the number seems to be shrinking each year. We have become too willing to excuse those who lack courage. Perhaps it is because so few of us get our courage tested today. We fear we may need to be excused lest we fail that test when it comes.
What you reward you get more of. What you discourage you get less of.Published in