Freedom, Gratitude, and Military Service

by: Daniel W. Holst

I am a military veteran, and I’m honored to write for The Edge. For my first article, I want to explore a feeling I’ve had now for many years.

Why did I serve? For twenty-one years I served in the Air Force and spent an additional five years serving as an Army Civilian. As honorable as both careers were, I didn’t sacrifice my life for your thanks, but it was a sacrifice. Every member, military or civilian, gives up a portion of their life whereas some give the ultimate sacrifice. Only to those does the fullness of our gratitude belong, but everywhere we go, people say “Thanks for your service.”

Do they really feel such gratitude, or do they simply follow the provocation of convention? After all, who wants to be identified as disrespectful to the military. But regardless of motivation, and ONLY for me personally, I’d rather not receive your thanks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for your gratitude, but that is not why I served.

Patriotism is not solely about country nor any of its constituent elements of nationalism, ethnicity, and religion. And it especially isn’t about government; Patriotism is about people. Yet we see such infighting among ourselves. We are hating ourselves. We see it on social media, and unfortunately people are dying because of our hatred.

Freedom must be offensive. It must allow narratives and rhetoric apprehensible to others, but it must not foment in us such hatred that our neighbors, our friends and family – our country – suffers. Yet freedom and the confirmation bias we receive from social media bolsters our defiance against normalcy and moral rectitude; we choose barbarism. We want to hate. That hatred comes from nowhere but ourselves. We echo Dr. Morbius by showing a mere token of civility to our fellow citizens, but at night, in the darkness of our thoughts, people die by the “monsters from our id.”

I served because I love America. I see that now more fully than I did upon initial enlistment, but I know it was as true then as it is now. We didn’t serve to make our country great, we served to give each citizen the freedom to choose and live with and for everybody. Only from which, can we all make America great for everybody. We have failed.

Sure. One may say that with hurricanes Harvey and Irma, we show our true soul, and in part that is true; but after each crisis, we always grow more divided. After every mass shooting, gun proponents strengthen their narrative that liberals seek to abolish the Second Amendment. After Harvey and Irma, illegal immigration, climate change, and social justice narratives will further distance us from each other.

The next time you see me or any military member, go ahead and give us your gratitude, but remember, it doesn’t end there. Use your freedom, our freedom, in the words of President Lincoln, “to bind up the nation’s wounds” and be truly patriotic.

Leave a Reply