There is something immensely moving about young men and women willing to sacrifice their lives for their country. Indeed, patriotism mixed with a desire for action can be a fearsome thing. This combination was on display at West Point after President Barack Obama's speech on Afghanistan.
The Washington Post reported on a phone call between Academy professor Mike Meese and his son, an Academy sophomore:
Said Col. Mike Meese, chairman of West Point's social studies department: "There has been an incredible intensity here ever since 9/11. The cadets have a strong belief that this is the defining struggle of their lifetime. Every one of them elected to come here because they want to be a part of it."
Not long after the speech, Meese received a call from his son, Brian, in his second year at West Point, who watched Obama from the second-to-back row with a solemn face. Brian had spoken with his friends on the walk back from the auditorium to their barracks, and none of them could stop obsessing over one number Obama had highlighted in his speech: 18 months. The deployment of 30,000 additional troops was something they had expected -- it was the future for which they had prepared. But why had Obama so forcefully emphasized that he would begin a drawdown of troops in 18 months? What if the war was over by the time they graduated?
Brian Meese, the latest aspiring officer in a family with three generations of service, had prepared to fight in a war ever since he was 12. He had accompanied his father to almost a dozen military funerals, and each one strengthened his resolve. At West Point, he studied Arabic instead of Spanish, judging it more practical for a soldier destined for the Middle East.
"Now I might not get to go," Brian told his father over the phone this week, his voice betraying disappointment.
"I think you will still have your chance," his father said. "All of the evil in the world is not going to be defeated by the summer of 2011."
"You're taking care of Iraq. You're taking care of Afghanistan," Brian told his father. "What's going to be left for me?"
I can't help but admire Brian Meese's desire "to go," almost irrespective of circumstances. I see the same desire in my nephew, who is currently training to be a SEAL.
Yet war always should be a last resort, a horrid necessity to protect life and liberty within civilian society. The latter may seem boring in a sense, but it embodies the highest values, the ones for which we sometimes must risk everything. Thus, we should hope and pray that there won't be anything "left for" Brian Meese to do in the Army. Although war can showcase the sublimest of values, such as heroism and self-sacrifice, it more often serves the worst of humanity, spreading death and destruction with wild abandon.
Alas, Mike Meese undoubtedly will be proved right. There is more than enough evil to go around. Indeed, there is no reason to believe that evil will ever disappear. Which is a good reason why the objective of the U.S. government should not be to combat evil, but to protect the lives and freedoms of the American people. Only the latter goal is realistic, let alone consistent with the principles of individual liberty and limited government. Unfortunately, the president's plan to expand America's military role in Afghanistan seems more directed at the former.
But until the lion lies down with the lamb, the world will remain a dangerous place. Which means we will continue to need the services of brave young men and women like Brian Meese and my nephew. I can only hope that when their time for action comes (as seems certain, given present policies), they will be better served by their political leaders than have been so many equally brave American military personnel in the past.