I’m sitting in a C-130 Hercules—80 pounds of gear strapped to my back, 1500 feet above the ground. I can hear the Herc’s engines – a deep, unceasing, monotonous drone. I can feel their vibration – a pervasive trembling that begins outside, on the wings of the aircraft, and ends inside, in the pit of my stomach.
I’m a soldier, an enlistee who volunteered to attend jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia, training to become a member of one of the proudest divisions in the United States Army, the 101st Airborne. I’m 19, scared to death and resolute as hell. It’s 1972, and this is my first parachute jump.
When I’d joined the military some 40 years ago, well-meaning family and friends praised me for my self-sacrifice. I tried explaining that my enlistment was for purely selfish reasons, to defend my life, my liberty and my property, i.e., to defend my rights – rights that, in the United States of America, are recognized unalienable and indisputable. Nothing less would have ever motivated me – petrified of heights as I then was – to jump out of that C-130 aircraft.
By defending my rights, I tried to explain to them, I’d have the opportunity to achieve my professional and personal goals – to become a writer who would challenge conventional thinking and to find a romantic partner who would challenge me.
I’d also have the opportunity, I went on, to acquire property and to pursue the pleasures of my personal values; to, in short, pursue my own happiness – to buy my own home; to enjoy the novels of Ayn Rand in my study, Ramsey Lewis on my stereo and the Yanks on my TV; to hear, someday – as I now do – the sunny voice of my gal singing in the morning, knowing she’s safe and secure – and free.
I had no desire to sacrifice my rights, values or happiness. I didn’t join the army to destroy myself. But that is precisely what I would have done had my enlistment been motivated by self-sacrifice.
Rights, values and happiness – indeed, sustaining human life itself – are the results of man’s capacity to reason. They’re the products of man’s mind, the “Self” in any human being. To practice self-sacrifice, then, requires that one act unthinkingly in ways that destroy one’s life, rights, values and happiness. The American soldier – who has no Kamikaze legacy, no history of jihad martyrdom – has consciously acted to preserve and to defend his rights, values, happiness and life. That is what I did; that is what our soldiers have done in the past; and that is what our soldiers are doing today.
These are important things to acknowledge, more so now than at any other time in our history. Our troops need our full, principled support to achieve a complete victory. But in order to fully support our troops, it is critical for us to understand that the heroism of our soldiers stems from their selfish commitment to proudly fight for their lives, their rights, their values and their happiness.
Crucial, also, to providing our moral support, is for us to grasp that the enemy is fighting for the opposite things, for the destruction of all rights, all values, all happiness and all life, intent on creating a hell on earth where, as one Islamist leader has put it, “thousands of young people…look forward to death like…Americans look forward to life.”
Let us, therefore, not blur the moral distinction between our soldiers and the enemy by praising the heroic deeds of our soldiers as products of self-sacrifice. That is the enemy’s value. That is what the enemy venerates and pursues. That is what leads the enemy to declare, “Americans love Pepsi-Cola. We love death.”
Let us, instead, recognize that our courageous soldiers, with supreme self-discipline and the highest moral dedication, are fighting for the Good, with the understanding that fighting for the Good requires our soldier to fight for themselves – for their own rights, values, happiness and lives. For only by fighting for themselves can they defend us.
Let us, then, rally behind them; let us honor them; and, if need be, let us defend them here at home against the attacks of equivocators, compromisers and cowards.
Finally, should any one of us be forced to endure, as a casualty of this war, the heartbreaking agony of the death of a loved one, may we find our solace in the words of a great American patriot: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”