War is hell. Every veteran knows there is no romance or glory in it. Yet those who live to tell the tales of battles won tell of war's glorious intensity and deep comradeship, how shared conflict deepens love for family and country. At its worst war provokes cowardice and shame. At its best war appeals to nobility and calls up honor in unexpected places.
Today we celebrate Memorial Day with a new generation of soldiers. Not all of them will live to tell their stories at a cozy hearth, surrounded by their grandchildren, nor will they see the future they offered their lives to guarantee. Our men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq live the fears borne from a thousand battlefields before them, in the sure and certain knowledge that their sacrifice makes a difference.
Not long ago, I visited wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, hunters home from the hill. Two of them had lost legs. Others were missing hands and arms. They talked only of home, of memories of riding bulls at the rodeo, driving dusty pickups along familiar back roads, of playing ball in the back yard with a brother or sister. Choking back tears, I spoke of our country's appreciation of them, and looked for traces of perfectly justified anger in their eyes. I found only the humility that accompanies honor. They had done what they were trained to do, they told me proudly. Yes, they asked the question we all would ask: "Why me?" But one of them said quietly that he would not forget the buddy who gave his life saving him: "So I'm the lucky one." To a man they spoke of bravery, not of their own, but of comrades in arms.
Thousands of these splendid young men have returned from the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, but many of us at home don't know anyone in uniform. This is a professional hazard for those of the press, whether we acknowledge it or not. Columnist John Leo observes that anti-military attitudes widely held by journalists stem first from liberal indoctrination they received on campus in years past.
The student senate at Columbia University voted not long ago to retain the ban of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) first imposed in 1969, when protest against the Vietnam War was the hot-button issue on campus. The hot-button argument today is that the military discriminates against gays with its policy of "don't ask, don't tell." But that's simply a smokescreen; if gays were warmly embraced, other reasons would be quickly found.