Quote of the Day: On Courage


“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.

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  1. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B

    I think the relative safety of our modern society offers fewer opportunities for courage to be tested. Sometimes the people don’t meet the circumstances with the necessary courage, but sometimes they do. There were the three young men who saved a train in France from a terrorist attack, and Clint Eastwood made their heroism the subject of the movie The 15:17 to Paris. It wouldn’t surprise me if cowardice always outweighs courage, but might it also be that we hear more stories of tragedy and failure than of triumph? The disaster that didn’t happen doesn’t usually make the news.


    This post is part of the Quote of the Day (QOTD) Series, which is one of the group writing projects here on Ricochet. The other is the monthly group writing theme organized by @cliffordbrown, currently open for volunteers to riff on the theme “Mother of —.” The QOTD signup sheet for May is here. The signup sheet for June is coming soon.

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  2. Jim George Member
    Jim George

    Lilly B (View Comment):
    It wouldn’t surprise me if cowardice always outweighs courage, but might it also be that we hear more stories of tragedy and failure than of triumph? The disaster that didn’t happen doesn’t usually make the news.

    Your point is well taken; however, it seems lately we are engulfed in the most glaring examples of cowardice and lack of even the most basic traits of courage, with Uvalde being the obvious reference, but also with reference to our “elite” “betters”, including to be totally fair, Republicans, who are taking the easy way out on the Ukraine funding obscenity, looking the other way as the “administration” simply ignores Federal law at the border, sending money to a country 5,000 miles away while letting babies go hungry due to the formula shortage, refusing to open up drilling in our own country while begging totalitarian monsters to please, please let us have some of their oil. The list is endless but every time I start one of these lists I just get more and more depressed and concerned about whether our Republic can possibly survive the corruption and depravity and venality I see all around us. I had a discussion in the last day or two with another Ricochet colleague about the general area of courage and posed this question: if you decided to write a new version of Profiles in Courage today, where in the world would you find enough material to get beyond the first 2-3 chapters, if even that far? Maybe I am seeing things through a darker than usual lens lately because of the pain I am sure we all feel for those poor children and their teachers and those left behind; despite that dark cloud, I have tried hard, even after the 2020 rigged election and having to see one of the most dishonest, corrupt politicians in the history of America get sworn in as President, to always at least make a real effort to see the hope and bright future America should have. But, it has been a heavy lift …..   

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  3. Ole Summers Member
    Ole Summers

    Freedom and Liberty are not easy or safe. They were not intended to be, and they can not flourish in compliance. One of the reasons that the Founders believed that only a “moral” people could live in Liberty for long is that those are the ones who know in their hearts that there exist principles more important than their own comfort or safety. Without that conviction, comfort and safety become the focus for too many.

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