This being a post-election week in which some politicians are exulting in victory and others are, in a strictly figurative sense, licking their wounds, it might prove useful to remember that there are numerous of our fellow
citizens out there for whom words signifying the high side and low side of combat are not metaphors at all but tokens of literal life-and-death situations they encountered in the service of their country.
These are our veterans, who were honored this week in a national holiday named for them — the living and the dead and those, for that matter, whose service in uniform is continuing and who stand ready to answer the next call to arms or national emergencies of other kinds.
Even as we took this brief time-out to commemorate our brothers and sisters who have performed such service, we were mindful of perils that belong not merely to the mystic chords of memory that Lincoln spoke of but to the present, to what we are used to calling "real time."
We are aware that a war we once considered over, the one in Iraq, is anything but, and that President Obama has begun the kind of gradual reassignment of military personnel there, and possibly elsewhere in the Middle East, that a recent generation grew unhappily familiar with in the case of Vietnam. "Mission creep" is the term of art for what may be about to happen. There is even a sense in which a potential long-term struggle against the new specter called ISIS resembles the former one against an enemy that went by the name of Viet Cong. That one also started out as a cautious commitment of military "advisers" and air support.
We are not attempting here to judge the pros and cons of such a commitment, although it is surely the patriotic duty of our newly elected representatives in Congress to make just such an effort, as it is incumbent on them and on the president to be ever mindful of opportunities for peace and for the resolution of the world's intractable animosities.
It is all the more necessary to exercise careful judgment at the highest councils of government because the grunts who do the dirty work at the risk of their lives are duty-bound by the requirements of their oath of service to do what they are called upon to do.
Really, we can't say it any better than Abraham Lincoln did: "It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."