Creeping under the table

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.



  1. Jeff Brokaw »

    11 November 2009 · 2:51 pm

    Wow, what a cool story about Tim James, former NBA player. I didn’t know about any of that. My hat is off to him.

    Thanks for that Chaz, and thank you for your service.

  2. Lisa Paul »

    11 November 2009 · 5:25 pm

    Thanks for this and thanks for your service. From my distant relation, Ethan Allen (not the furniture store but the Revolutionary War guerrilla fighter) to my father, a career Army officer and decorated veteran of two wars, service has been a part of our family and someone in our family has served or been in uniform in every war since our first one.

    It’s a challenge for only the few, and that’s probably always going to be the case. But the rest of us can still “serve with distinction” — at the very least by demanding of our Congresspeople that they expand the GI Bill and the veterans benefits and services that were so drastically cut during the last administration. And beyond that, we can fight with political action to uphold the freedoms our service people are upholding on the front lines.

    Also, don’t forget the military families who also serve. If you are store owner or restauranteur, offer them a discount. If you are a neighbor, help them out.

  3. CGHill »

    11 November 2009 · 6:03 pm

    There’s a few on my family tree, including both parents and one brother; a sister was married to a soldier.

    I really didn’t think it was the furniture store. :)

  4. Charles Pergiel »

    11 November 2009 · 10:28 pm

    “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.”

    It wasn’t that college students were trying to avoid service. It was that going to college was a relatively easy way of avoiding the service. A lot of people who ordinarily would not go to college went simply to avoid the draft.

    Some people think there was a good reason for that. It’s one thing to do something you believe in, it’s another to be compelled to do something someone else believes in. Add in the part about maybe getting blown to bits, and conscription begins to look a lot like slavery.

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