An NRO SymposiumIn observance of Independence Day, National Review Online asked a group of servicemen (currently deployed and vets) — those for whom the rest of us are in debt for our freedom — to tell us why they fight. Here’s what they — with a key supporting role from an army wife — wrote.
Peter Brookes: While the Star-Spangled Banner exalts the land of the free and the home of the brave, the fact is this country is the home of the free because of the brave. God Bless our troops — and all those who came before them.
— Peter Brookes is a U.S. Navy veteran.
When your throat is so dry that water seems like an incredible luxury. When you jolt awake from nightmares of dark beings pursuing you to the point that you wish away sleep. When your over-taxed body aches past the point of muscle pain into deep bone agony. When every dark alley, every doorway, every fold on the ground seems to hold death or terrible maiming, it is natural to wonder why.
When messages from the people in America that you are defending with your life indicate indifference at best, ignorance overall, and hostility in gathering voice how can one not wonder why. Why do I do this?
The answers are whispy, ephemeral, difficult to articulate. For duty, honor, country? That for some is sufficient, though they are mocked for their belief. For desire to keep family at home safe? A sensible goal when visions of tumbling towers, car bombs, and suicide attackers dominates the daily feed.
But when pushed beyond human endurance, when mind and body force each other to heights of courage and strength thought impossible, the answer is clear: We fight for each other. We fight so that the man on either side will know that regardless of how awful it gets we will not let him down. We fight because we share a bond those who don’t fight will never know.
— Gordon Cucullu has served as an Army Green Beret lieutenant colonel.
Sometimes, we must fight. We do so because freedom is worth defending, and tyranny must be opposed. America maintains a special role in defending freedom because our country does not just believe in freedom — freedom is our founding principle, our essence. Further, we live in the world’s oldest democracy and have been blessed with the strength to protect our freedoms and to help others who seek the same. The miracle of America is that we do not use our power to take away the freedom of others, as is the pattern of nations throughout history.
Instead, the American tradition involves sacrificing, as a nation, to enhance the freedom of others. Soldiers sacrifice by enlisting and serving away from home, while citizens mobilize to help them succeed. Soldiers and citizens have shared the burden of war, from General Washington convincing colonial merchants to help equip revolutionary soldiers, to the war bond drives of World War II. The need to defend freedom, and the sacrifice shared by our citizens and soldiers in the name of freedom, should be remembered on this day.
— Major Eric Egland is the founder of www.TroopsNeedYou.com, a charitable organization that is partnering with General Petraeus to mobilize the American public in direct support of victory in Iraq. He previously served on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I was scared that Eric was in Iraq while I was pregnant with our first son. But besides our shared faith in Jesus Christ, what helped me was the knowledge that Eric was part of something important. The liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan is important to the people of the United States, to the people of those countries, and to freedom-loving people around the world.
My family deeply understands that “Freedom isn’t free.” I grew up under Communism. My parents suffered under Nazi rule. These experiences taught us the sad fact that some people, when given the opportunity, will enslave others — and sometimes, only military strength can stop them.
Just as the Allies liberated Europe from the Nazis, and Western military strength made the Soviet Wall crumble, Iraq and Afghanistan were ruled by brutal dictatorships until liberated by the US and its allies.
I have lived under tyranny, and I despise it. Whether it masquerades as Fascism, Communism, or Islamic radicalism, it remains tyranny.
So, I am proud that my husband played a role in coalitions, led by America, that have liberated tens of millions of people. I am proud to live in America, and enjoy the freedoms it cherishes — and defends.
— Mrs. Ania Egland, wife of Eric, is a native of Poland. Eric returned home in time for the birth of their son, Noah, and they have since been blessed with another son, Daniel.
Iraq and its people have a special place in the heart and psyche of many American Marines and soldiers. For those Marines and soldiers who are “outside the wire” or work with Iraqis daily, the bond gets tighter every day. Marines and soldiers see themselves as protectors of the Iraqi people until such time as they can collectively protect themselves. Ask them and most will tell you the highlight of their tour was working with the Iraqi people. The cost has been enormous at times and none of us will ever return from Iraq the same as when we arrived. Some of us will return to the United States having more in common with the average Iraqi than the average American — at least for a while. Most have us have lost a friend here and many of us have lost more than that. But we all want the Iraqis to succeed and become a peaceful and prosperous nation.
Those of us who have worked steadily with the Iraqis know what many of us suspected from the beginning — Iraqis are a good and decent people struggling to resurrect a country that has been at perpetual war for nearly 30 years. In Al Anbar, we’ve seen the Iraqi army and Iraqi police come a long way in their efforts to drive the scourge of al Qaeda from this land. Many of them have died fighting right next to our Marines and soldiers, speaking pidgin English, and quoting American movies and sitcoms. As President Bush realized recently on his trip to Albania, many Muslims have no problem with America and want the good things that our country has to offer. Those of us Americans in Iraq can go north to Kurdistan and we’ll be warmly greeted by millions of Kurds who have already formed a mini-America. Still, there are the criminals and cultists of al Qaeda and Iran that want to stop any dialogue between the West and Islam. We stand between them and the Iraqi people for the time being. While we are here, we will do everything to prevent the evil and the wicked from taking this country and its people because they are worth fighting for.
— Tony Licari is a captain in the United States Marine Corps, currently serving in Iraq.
W. Thomas Smith Jr.
Why we fight? I won’t speak for others, but for me the answer is pretty simple.
Twenty-five years ago, I enlisted in the Marines under a “guaranteed infantry” contract. It was the only way I would join. If there was war, I wanted to fight; and for two reasons: Love of country and a chance for adventure. Nothing more.
Fast forward to 2007. I no longer carry a rifle or wear the eagle, globe, and anchor. But I’m still a Marine — you never really leave the Corps — and I’m still in the fight in my own way as a military writer and correspondent. The reasons, however, have matured. The sense of adventure is somewhat tempered. The love of country has deepened. Why the latter? Because — though I’ve always loved America — I’ve now traveled much of the world and learned what freedom and the lack of it really mean. I no longer take freedom for granted. I know that sounds mawkish and cliché. But just as a man’s love for his wife and children grows and deepens with age, so too his love — if it was ever really there — for his country and what it has given him over the years.
Like the rest of us, I’ve always known the words of Patrick Henry. As a boy, I associated his phrase with historic drama. Today, I understand it as passion, and I now feel bound to the soul of the man who said, “Give me liberty or give me death!”
— A former U.S. Marine infantry leader, W. Thomas Smith Jr. writes about military issues and has covered war in the Balkans, on the West Bank, and in Iraq. Smith is the author of six books, and his articles appear in a variety of publications. He blogs at The Tank.
I sought my commission in the Air Force initially because I wanted to learn to fly and see the world. Quickly, however, my service evolved into something quite different. Through my early training I was taught the virtues of duty, honor, discipline, selfless service and moral character. I understood then that there was something unique and ultimately satisfying in serving one’s country. The virtues that America was founded on still had a home in the military. I was introduced to the bonds of trust that develop between soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. One of my very first military operations was flying into Grenada on the first day of President Ronald Reagan’s bold intervention to stem Communism in the Caribbean. I had fellow Americans depending on me, and I was mutually dependent on them. It’s a bond that defies description, a kinship and an understanding that only those who share common experiences and common losses can understand. If I didn’t have it before, I certainly had it from that point on — an overwhelming pride in my country and in my fellow servicemen and women. Whether it was through operations in Somalia, Bosnia, or Haiti, I was honored to lead the finest Americans I have ever known and it was my privilege to serve our nation for the betterment of peoples everywhere.
Joseph Morrison Skelly
The Fourth of July is one of the most inspiring of moments to ask the question, “Why do we fight?” My fellow soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, like generations of patriots extending back to 1776, fight, among other aims, to defend the eternal truths encapsulated in the very document we commemorate today as a nation. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the Declaration of Independence boldly proclaims, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
In these words are found principles that give dignity to life and life to the oppressed. It is important to note, in our relativistic age, that the Declaration speaks of them as truths — and that they are. It is true that all men are created equal: The Book of Genesis reveals how “God created Man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them,” thus exalting the worth of every individual. It is true that we are endowed by our Creator, and not by any manmade system, with unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, according to the natural law tradition, are grounded not in our own hands, but in Divine will. It is true that our government was instituted for the limited purpose of safeguarding our natural rights, including property rights and freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press. It is true that our democratic state draws its authority from popular consent, thus making possible government of, by, and for the people.
On July 4, 1776, our Founding Fathers set in train a series of events whose outcome, it is always essential to recall, was not preordained. Enormous effort and endless sacrifice eventually secured victory. Today these same qualities are required of every American in the face of a sinister enemy who kills without mercy. The Revolutionary War was fought for independence. The War on Islamic Terror is waged to defend our liberty, and all that is decent in democratic life.
We are not alone. The Declaration of Independence stands as an eloquent expression of American political thought. It is also part of a larger Anglo-American tradition of consensual rule, with its origins in the moderate wing of the Enlightenment, the writings not only of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, but of John Locke, David Hume, and Adam Smith. The latter three of these philosophers were British. With the recent bombing attempts in London, we are reminded that our ancient adversary is now our closest of allies. Meanwhile, the principles of democratic self-government and natural rights enjoy a growing appeal among freedom-loving people throughout the world. Now it is Americans who must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the British — and with the victims of Islamic terrorism everywhere, with Iraqis and Israelis, Afghanis and Spaniards, Jordanians and Australians, the French and the Algerians, Indonesians and Filipinos. That is the destiny of America today, 231 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That is why we fight. And that is why we will win.
— Joseph Morrison Skelly is a history professor in New York City. An officer in the United States Army Reserve, he has served a tour of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As a young boy, I knew I would be a Marine. I did not know why. Like so many Marine infantryman serving today, I am the son of a Marine. But I didn’t feel pressured. The impulse was lodged deep, a relentless call of the wild.
Today’s career Marines are bulwarks. It’s said that America’s most precious resource is its children, but in a time of war it may be the professional guardians who serve at the pleasure of the President. I’m a wanna-be, and I serve at the pleasure of my wife — two tours in Iraq as a Marine and a short stint as a reporter. Puny compared to many of my friends, but between my wife and two youngsters who were either born while I was overseas or suffered because of it, I suppose we’ve done our part.
I fight because there’s a war on. We didn’t start it but we better be damned determined to end it. Say what you want about the Iraq invasion and unintended consequences. That doesn’t change the facts that the rotten core of the insurgency there is our mortal enemy, and that the long war is in its infancy. In a fight you move forward from where you are, not where you want to be.
Also, I fight because I’m a Marine. And Marines like to fight.
— Owen West, a Wall Street trader and major in the Marine Reserves, has served two tours in Iraq.