COURAGE AND CONSCIENCE
Where has all our courage gone? Why is it that there is no longer the will to defend nobility, virtue, right, with our life? There no longer appears to be anything worth fighting or dying for. Freedom, the rights of man, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, all have taken a back seat to pecuniary considerations. The world is living by one primary principle: if it makes one money, it’s a good thing and should be instituted; if it costs one money, it’s a bad thing and should be done away with. All the nobler virtues have been reduced to obscurity; one rarely hears of them anymore. Even government from the local level up to, and including, the Federal level appears to have only one criterion for basing their decisions: What will this cost? Seldom do government officials publicly argue the merits of a particular decision based on justice, truth, right versus wrong, honesty, equality, duty, honor, and stand behind their opinion. It is more common for vacillation to hold sway.
Is it because we in America have achieved a life of incomparable ease based on economic advancement to the point that we are no longer willing to jeopardize our lifestyle by, what are deemed by many, pointless excursions in defense of duty?
There are many historical examples of people defending themselves, their friends, families, neighbors, even strangers, with their lives; sacrificing everything to defend and protect that which they deem worthy of their utmost.
The Alamo stands foremost as an example. A small group of people displayed uncommon courage in facing a despot. One hundred and eighty seven Texans who were also citizens of Mexico stood against overwhelming odds knowing full well that they were doomed to slaughter; hoping against hope that Fannin or Houston would come to their aid in time. What possessed them to stand firm? Was it an almost fanatical belief in the hereafter? Did they burn with an intensity of patriotic fervor, driven to levels of fanaticism akin to that of Jim Jones and the Jamestown massacre? Maybe they were oppressed to the point of lifeless desperation by Generalissimo Santa Anna. Almost certainly, they had more than one opportunity to desert the Alamo and leave Santa Anna facing an empty adobe mission complex. If nothing else, they could have simply surrendered in the face of vastly superior numbers and no one would have thought the worse of them. Of course, had they done so, Texas and America might well be entirely different today. Instead, they gave the ultimate sacrifice for an ideal. Why do we look with callousness and disdain on sacrifices such as that today?
One of the advantages of the internet is the vast amount of heretofore difficult or impossible to find information that is now available. A brief search for Congressional Medal of Honor winners brings up many websites devoted to the topic. The Congressional Medal of Honor was created by the United States Congress in 1861. Until 1973 these dusty archaic records were only sporadically printed. The U.S. Senate ordered the entire list printed as the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, U.S. Senate, Medal of Honor Recipients: 1863-1973 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1973). The last Medal of Honor was awarded recently to a WWII veteran named Jason Dunham It is an interesting study in courage to read of these men and their acts of courage. Many of them were awarded the medal posthumously.
Our own Civil War stands out as well as an example of courage, of fortitude, of tenacity, of resolution, seldom exhibited by the human race. Not only were the troops of both sides generally imbued with valor in defense of their beliefs, but politicians on both sides exhibited courage in the face of daunting challenges. On one battlefield , Antietam, there were more casualties than have occurred on any battlefield since, in any war America has fought. In one day more than 26,000 men fell. That is half as many men as fell in all of the Korean conflict. It is approximately half of all casualties we experienced in Viet Nam. President Lincoln, of course, stands unsurpassed in history as a prime example of courage in conflict. Was it only the dire straits of the times that brought out incredible fortitude of spirit in so many?
Certainly our nation has faced many trying times since. And each time we have been plunged by forces and circumstances into crisis there have been those who have risen to lead by example, by uncommon courage, by sheer strength of spirit. There have also been those vocal recreants who have risen to discourage, to distract, to defeat if possible.
Is it only a matter of numbers that spurs the poltroons among us to express public dissent? Does publication of casualties promote such discord? Therein does confusion rear it’s ugly head. Many times in the past, our nation, and our enemy’s populations have experienced great devastation. Allied casualties on Okinawa during the waning days of WWII exceeded 50,000 G.I.s in as little as a couple of months. Where was the hue and cry from the public then? There were certainly some who questioned but, almost overwhelmingly, the government had the public’s support. How is it that there was such a public display of courage in the face of brobdingnagian carnage? Was it a matter of rare leadership? Of media restraint? Of government restraint of the media? Was it public ignorance? Or was it more a positive element: deliberate patriotic education in the public schools and through the accommodating media?
By the close of WWI Germany had lost over one million men. Their country was economically devastated to a point unseen in history to that time. Yet a bare twenty years later, Germany launched a second world wide blitzkrieg with the complete assent of its population. Maybe the German government quashed any hint of rebellion with such speed and violence, it introduced timidity, creating a nation of pikers, as it were. A nation of sheep driven by fear to plunge over the cliffs of national suicide in the name of Aryan Supremacy.
Without question, every nation in the midst of crisis has had it’s select few who dared to dissent, to stand up and stand out for the sublimity of conscience.
How many of our sons and daughters can state with confidence the name of the one who said, ” Let us have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”? (President Abraham Lincoln)
Maybe it’s as simple, and as complex, as our educational system not teaching the virtues of courage, of right, of Duty, Honor, Country.
And if so, whose fault is it that our educational system is so sadly lacking? Ours, no doubt. It is a matter of public record that our public facilities are focused on bringing our students up to a point of academic and economic equality with the rest of the world. That’s all well and good but shouldn’t our children be able to demonstrate the highest standards of morality and virtue to the rest of the world first and foremost? It is from a basis of morality and virtue, of faith, of courage, of resolution, and tenacity that leadership and achievement spring. And isn’t that our goal? To bring up a nation of leaders who can demonstrate the former qualities in a world of nations desperate for leaders of courage in the face of cowardice, tenacity in the face of trouble, resolution in the face of rebuttal?
Is it possible that it is too much to ask of our overburdened educational system to insist they teach our children these essentials? Maybe it is better for individual families to encourage them in these pursuits. At an earlier time in our nation’s history churches did indeed undertake this distinct task.
Courage will still stand out. As it has in all of history, the courage of individuals to stand up for right, for duty, honor, honesty, integrity, justice, equality, freedom, for the nobility of the human spirit, will continue to shine whether it receives the public acclaim it so richly deserves or not. On a personal basis, one on one, our children will continue to observe, read about, hear one way or another of the courage of their antecedents, and their peers. For, in spite of attempts to block or conceal these virtuous acts, the human nature, made in God’s image, will always strive to seek out what is best, will hunger for what is right, will gravitate toward the truth.
In the end, righteousness will prevail.