It is Veteran’s Day, the day we offer special thanks to our soldiers and their families for dealing with our enemies. We are tasked with keeping the home fires burning and keeping America ticking along so that our soldiers will have something to come home to. We haven’t always done such a great job with this essential trust. After WWII our soldiers came home as absolute heroes to a grateful and celebratory nation. After Vietnam, with more than half the country in the middle of a cultural revolution, and with the anti-war movement strong and loud, our soldiers got short shrift when they came home. Modern soldiers have come home to a land in the midst of economic shifts without the plentiful factory jobs which helped soldiers who returned from previous wars. They have come home to a country that has fewer financial resources and cannot be as generous as we previously were to those WWII vets. They have come home to a Veteran’s Administration that should have switched their records to computers a while ago, a Veteran’s Administration that has had difficulty dealing with an enormous backlog of paper work, and which has therefore left veterans in a limbo that has ranged from frustrating to devastating.
We each have responsibilities when there is conflict in the world, but the burdens our soldiers bear are greater. The soldier knows that s/he may face bodily harm or death; s/he may be asked to serve in a hostile land where understanding at least the essentials in a foreign language and understanding cultural rules that differ from ours makes soldiering tougher than just being a good citizen at home. In these times we often fight wars and interact with the people who live near our simple military bases; we are training these native people and trying to show our humanity and good will while wearing body armor and uniforms, and we are trying not to let our guard down in case the enemy is mixed in with the townsfolk.
Medically we can save soldiers with horrific wounds, wounds which would have been fatal in almost every other war we have ever fought. This is a good thing. However, this good thing has a tough side because the weapon of choice in these recent wars has been the IED which rips limbs off of bodies. Our soldiers live but must go through long periods of rehabilitation. We see the brave ones who conquer their limb loss and do inspirational things like run and ski, all using prosthetics. These veterans, who gather their internal mental strength to regain their physical strength, may cause a sort of snowball effect that helps those who might not have quite as much mental strength to find theirs, and to learn to live fairly well within their limitations. Surely though there must also be soldiers who are too damaged to lift themselves up and regain quality in their lives and perhaps these soldiers sometimes wish we were not getting so good at saving their lives when they are so severely injured.
The one area that has benefited the most from innovation during our war activities in the Middle East has, sadly, been this area of prosthetics. We are finding that the industry is responding to need by creating replacement limbs that are more useful than prosthetics designed in the past. We are seeing this area of invention leap forward into designs that are more futuristic than what we are seeing in other areas of innovation (except for weapons design, an area where progress has always responded to mankind’s desire to wreak ever more havoc). Warfare seems to be moving soldiers farther and farther apart with weapons that have the ability to kill enemies at a greater distance, although we still have infantry and we still eventually mix it up hand to hand. Drones are the first long distance weapon whose use is not to clear the way for foot soldiers. It gives us the ability to fight wars without wounded soldiers. However, drones will probably meet our warfare goals for only a brief time because they are most useful in terrain where soldiers are least effective or in lands that are truly hostile, but which politically require a diplomatic approach. Eventually, when all nations have drones, drones will allow countries to attack distant lands and soldiers will be of no help against them. Only a star wars type low earth orbit defense system will combat drones if every country is using them.
Will we always have soldiers? Probably. Will we always see the terrible loss of limbs that we have seen in recent wars? I hope not. Perhaps if we find that losing limbs will always be part of soldiering we will eventually reach the place where we know how to regrow them. There are signs that we may be getting close.
If you like to read about soldiers then reading about Rome, where modern warfare began, is a great place to start. The Roman soldier was essential to an imperialistic Rome, a relatively modern nation surrounded by barbarians, who actually were fairly uncivilized and wild. Rome knew the value of soldiers and it tried to reward career soldiers, although in times when resources were scarce soldiers often had to wait until more prosperous times to get their rewards. I recommend a trilogy of books written by Colleen McCullough in the 1990’s. (I know they’re old, but since they are about Rome which is even older, they stay relevant.) Here is a brief summary of each of the books:
This big, complex novel detailing the beginnings of the downfall of the Roman Republic is a startling change of pace for McCullough. Gaius Marius, an upstart New Man from the Italian provinces, and Lucius Cornelius Sulla, a patrician Roman brought up in the slums of the Subura, are both ambitious enough to want to become First Man in Rome, despite their social handicaps. The author deftly weaves politics, family rivalries, and battle scenes into a riveting story replete with fascinating details of everyday Roman life. The research is obviously painstaking; the author includes a large glossary of more than 100 pages as well as a pronunciation key for the Roman names. Highly recommended.
– Marilyn Jordan, North Miami P.L., Fla.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
New York Times bestselling author Colleen McCullough returns us to an age of magnificent triumphs, volcanic passions, and barbaric cruelties.
Throughout the Western world, great kingdoms have fallen and despots lay crushed beneath the heels of Rome’s advancing legions. But now internal rebellion threatens the stability of the mighty Republic. An aging, ailing Gaius Marius, heralded conqueror of Germany and Numidia, longs for that which was prophesied many years before: an unprecedented seventh consulship of Rome. It is a prize to be won only through treachery and with blood, pitting Marius against a new generation of assassins, power-seekers, and Senate intriguers—and setting him at odds with the ambitious, tormented Lucius Cornelius Sulla, once Marius’s most trusted right-hand man, now his most dangerous rival.
The third installment in McCullough’s magnum opus (after The First Man in Rome, 90, and The Grass Crown , Morrow, 1991) continues her chronicle of the decline of the Roman Republic and the impending rise of the Roman Empire. The novel’s events are dominated by Sulla’s return from exile and subsequent installation as Rome’s first dictator in almost 200 years; Pompey the Great’s machinations as the wealthy provincial, which clears his own path upward through Roman politics; and the maturing of Gaius Julius Caesar, who will ultimately set Rome upon it’s imperial course. These three are “Fortune’s favorites.” Painstakingly researched, McCullough’s Roman saga is like a trip through time. Her characters come to life as do their surroundings. While giving us rollicking good fiction, McCullough has also made clear the bribery and chicanery that made up Roman politics. She has given us clear insight into how Rome found itself changing from a republic to an empire. Highly recommended.
– Steven Sussman, “Library Journal”
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
I will end by saying that there will never be a way to thank our soldiers enough but that we should keep trying.