Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on the first Veteran’s Day honored by War on the Rocks in 2013.
Today is the first Veterans Day observed since War on the Rocks launched. In our short history, we’ve published pieces on war and conflict, diplomacy, defense policy, military strategy, and foreign affairs. As strategists, observers of conflict, and students of history, we perceive all of these topics as inextricably linked to the central theme of war. The notion of politics as war by other means permeates our writers’ analyses. We understand diplomacy as the complement of military action in strategic policymaking, most effective when backed by the threat of force. And we see the international system as a contest whereby military capability is the fundamental determinant of a state’s power.
As such, nearly everything that appears on War on the Rocks, even that which does not directly examine issues of war, is never more than a few degrees removed from the combat experience. Because of this, we benefit greatly from the perspective of the current and former Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines among our editors, columnists, and contributors.
By definition, the dispassionate analysis for which we strive considers national power as a holistic aggregation of an array of inputs. But Veterans Day provides us with an opportunity to acknowledge that the greatest contribution to our national security and warfighting capability has been made by the men and women that have worn the uniform throughout our nation’s history.
Our military today is backed by the economic might of the strongest nation in the world. It enjoys technological superiority over any other force in the field. And its expeditionary capability is unmatched: No country throughout history has come close to our ability to bring our military power to bear so rapidly and so widely when called upon to protect our security and that of our allies and friends. But each of these advantages is meaningful only insofar as we are able to pair them with the most highly trained, dedicated, and professional body of warfighters possible. Throughout our nation’s history, our men and women have answered the call and provided just that. They have done so under difficult conditions, when it required great personal sacrifice, and often for purposes both ill-defined and domestically unpopular.
Veterans Day can be a difficult time for those who have served. One of my friends, a fellow U.S. Army officer, shared with me the struggle she faced when friends, family members, and perfect strangers thanked her for her service upon her redeployment from Iraq. She had served as the S-2 of an engineer battalion, the officer responsible for managing the unit’s intelligence analysts and tracking everything in its area of operations that impacted the battalion’s ability to complete its mission. She was smart, hard-working, and eminently capable. She performed admirably and effectively over the course of a 15-month deployment and made an invaluable contribution to her unit’s mission capability. And yet, she felt that she had done nothing more than her job as it was expected of her. She struggled to see her actions as worthy of the genuine appreciation conveyed in the phrase, “thank you for your service.”
She is not alone among veterans who experience this ambivalence. Each one can invariably point to somebody more deserving of the gratitude, a fellow brother or sister in arms whose mission was more difficult or whose sacrifice was greater. Veterans will express pride in their service, but to them, the word means something different than it does in the context of an expression of thanks for it. Being thanked for one’s service feels intensely personal, and few veterans feel their actions in uniform warrant such direct praise. But to be proud of one’s service is to be honored to have represented your country, and to have done so alongside people with whom you will forever share a unique bond. This selflessness keeps too many veterans from appreciating the contribution to our nation that each of them has made. The U.S. military is a complex system. And like any such system, the sum is far greater than its constituent parts. But each of those parts is vital. Each of them — each man and woman who has served — has earned the honor and respect that we give them today. We observe Veterans Day to offer the gratitude for which millions of Americans who have worn our nation’s military uniform are too humble to ask.
So to all of our nation’s military veterans, thank you for your service.
John Amble is the managing editor of War on the Rocks.
Photo credit: USACE HQ