Last Saturday a friend of mine asked me a question: “Would you be willing to die for your country even if it seemed completely pointless and nothing was accomplished?” I was taken aback at first, as he is currently enlisted in the South Carolina Army National Guard, and has an Army ROTC contract. For most of us, when we see politicians on camera, bumbling like a buffoon, talking about subjects they have no clue about, we laugh. But somehow we decided these politicians, most of whom have never worked and blue collar job or served for their country, have complete control over if we go to war or not. They decide whether or not good men get put into harm’s way. For some of us here, it is a real possibility, and I could see he was really worried about this.
So I thought, and I gave an easy answer at first, “Well I wouldn’t be able to tell you unless I was in that position.” Then I thought to the classic novel-turned-movie “Catch-22″ where Capt. Nately said “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” The reason I bring up Capt. Nately is that he was a representation of American Optimism. He was young, patriotic, and optimistic, and he possessed the same naivete seen in most 19-year-olds, similar to what I, and many of you, embody.
Capt. Nately fell in love with a prostitute, whom he planned to marry and send her kid sister to college in the U.S. after the war. However, his naivete was challenged when he met an old man in the whorehouse one day, to whom he said: “You’re a shameful opportunist! What you don’t understand is that’s it better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” The old man shot back: “You have it backwards: it’s better to live on your feet than to die on your knees.” We are Capt Nately, and the old man is real life, shining bittersweet light of truth upon us. In my naivete I think they are both right and wrong; That it is best to live on your feet, but I would rather die, still on my feet, then to live and die on my knees like a dog. The reason I thought of this is because Capt. Nately, just like my friend was asking, was killed in a pointless battle, in a pointless way when a mentally unstable squadron mate crashes into him.
This disheartened me slightly, but then I thought about it from a different angle; I thought of my father. He was awarded a the bronze star for his achievement in 120th transportation division. He was a farm boy from rural Wisconsin when he was drafted Jan 23, 1970. He got a spot in the transportation division because he was accustomed to using large machinery. This also saved him from facing direct combat, not that there were not other dangers he had to worry about. He also was fortunate to take a leadership course while he was waiting for a spot to open up in his school, which helped him out in a later instance. Even though he did not directly save anyone, he still played a vital role in transporting supplies though Vietnam. Like a stone thrown into a pond, the little things he did had a ripple effect, the supplies he delivered could have saved lives, or been the deciding factor in a crucial battle.
I came the conclusion that something we consider pointless may have big repercussions. Who are we to say that some pointless conflict did not inspire someone or affect someone’s decision later on? Even if I am able to save just one life, to change just one life, then my life is was not a waste, and it was not pointless. That one life I change can turn around and change another and another and another, endlessly. A ripple effect that will be felt for generations. My legacy will eventually die but if I can do some good before that happens, then my life was a success.
Executive Editor, The Brigadier