In Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, the Terran Federation is a limited democracy in which full citizenship comes with a price. Earning citizenship and suffrage — the right to vote — was accomplished by two years of voluntary Federal Service. The concept that a society be made of people who have contributed to their country and government was important to Heinlein, who served in the Navy after graduating from the Naval Academy. Earning a voice in government, in Heinlein’s eyes, is better than anyone “who is 18 years old and has a body temperature near 37 °C.”
The idea that veterans are deeply rewarded for their sacrifice is an admirable one; something that would inspire appreciation for gained freedoms and instill a foundation of work ethic. In our society, veterans make analogous sacrifices. First, they pledge an allegiance to uphold the longstanding tradition of morals and honor of their respective country. Second, they knowingly surrender various birth-given rights and are held to a higher standard for their actions. Third, they play their specific role in an organization that provides and maintains the security of freedom for all countrymen. And fourth, they do so with meager compensation and the occasional “thank you.”
Some might say that the veteran has chosen their fate; their own volition led them into their job just as a civilian has chosen theirs. Yet the difference is that veteran made that decision knowing what was at stake. The Airman who works on jets or the Ranger who puts two rounds into an extremist consciously made a decision that subjects them to the needs of their respective branch. They chose to reduce their freedom so that you and I can under appreciate ours.
Many of you will feel noble on these holidays by publicly saying, “Thank you, troops,” but words are dust; they usually blow away with time. I won’t spin tales of heroes, sacrifice, and death. I won’t ask you to thank anyone or give a donation. All I ask is that you live honorably. Most service members believe this country is worth enduring a lot of shitty situations. There’s an idea that despite our flaws, America is an amazing place to live full of righteous people who work hard and have personal responsibility.
Do not let them down; live honorably. Convince the families of the fallen that their loss was worth it. Convince the service members who still toil that their effort is worth it. Take responsibility of your life and actions, respect others, and never, ever stop trying to succeed. Teach others how to do the same.
The only true memorial is to live this way, to live honorably. Everything else is an obligatory charade.
Thank you to current and past veterans for making the choice to serve your country at the expense of limiting the most important values of all: freedom and liberty.