The reference comes from Dr. Johnson:
“Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea.” Boswell: “Lord Mansfield does not.” Johnson: “Sir, if Lord Mansfield were in a company of General Officers and Admirals who have been in service, he would shrink; he’d wish to creep under the table.”
DaTechguy expands on this idea:
I didn’t shrink but I felt the way a man feels when his work is being done by someone else, and that is I believe more than any other reason why Veterans Day and Memorial Day have basically become retail holidays.
When we see a serving soldier we are reminded that there are a small group of men and women who are doing our work for us. They are part of a community that if you are not a part of it you may not understand.
This has been the price of the all volunteer army that was born in the desperate attempts of college students to avoid service in the 60’s. For decades our popular culture looked down upon these men, our movies have and still paint them as “broken”. Even after Sept 11th our popular culture still never caught up with the average man who recognized that maybe just maybe there is something more to the soldier than someone who is looking to pay for college.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that a man in sin will avoid signs of God because it reminds him of his current state. I think a similar thing has happened to Veterans Day and Memorial Day. We don’t want to think about it, we don’t bother to attend. It is safer to simply shop, because if we look at Veterans Day and Memorial Day for who they honor and what they do we look at ourselves and remember what we have not done.
This is not, I hasten to add, a call for a return to conscription. But I remember draftees from the early 1970s, and while you could tell that they definitely wanted to be somewhere else, they weren’t about to let the rest of us down. When you’re called by something bigger than yourself — well, first you have to realize that it is bigger than yourself. Not everyone possesses this level of awareness: the newspapers are full of stories of people who couldn’t imagine anything more important than themselves.
And then I read about someone like, say, Tim James, and all the headlines melt away.
At the 2004 dedication of the National WWII Memorial, that old soldier Bob Dole said:
What we dedicate today is not a memorial to war. Rather, it is a tribute to the physical and moral courage that makes heroes out of farm and city boys and that inspired Americans in every generation to lay down their lives for people they will never meet, for ideals that make life itself worth living.
Mark that: every generation. Yesterday my oldest grandson turned ten. Will he someday put on the uniform, take up a weapon, as I once did? I don’t know. I’m not going to try to talk him into it. But I’m not going to try to talk him out of it, either. Not everyone is cut out for that kind of life, and that’s fine; I figure, so long as he’s not creeping under the table, it’s all good.