Perhaps I feel this way since it’s Mother’s Day here in the U.S.
Because I’m thinking about the phrase in the presidential Oath of Office that has the words, “to preserve and protect” in it. Taken in the broadest sense, the inductee swears to preserve our way of life and our Constitution and to protect the nation as a whole. But how do we protect our nation’s citizenry broadly? We can guard our borders and hopefully prevent others from attacking us, but when they do so, those involved on both sides are involved in conflict individually. An army or a navy is considered an entity, but they are not. When we forget or ignore the fact that combat is between individuals and we are prone to look at the grand scheme of things, we are inclined to lose our humanity. We lose the sense that human life is precious. We speak of “collateral damage” and “acceptable” losses in an engagement, as though those lost are not expensive. And in the absolute extreme, we lose all sense of humanity when those among us elect to strap explosives to our children and use them as walking, breathing bombs. We then become monsters as we justify actions of that type.
In one of my novels, I wrote about a United States Marine, a character I created who, in battle, put the lives of his fellow Marines above his own, and in saving them during an ambush near Fallujah, he lost his life. The speeches about his valor and character at the internment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery were quite moving, and the President of the United States attended the service. He presented a neatly folded American flag to the fallen Marine’s mother, as well as the Congressional Medal of Honor, and he then sincerely thanked her for her son’s service. She was flown back to her small home in Montana that same day, and as darkness descended on her world, she sat alone in a rocking chair with a single lamp dimly illuminating the room around her, and she began to cry.
That is the world that is real. Sons and daughters die, and mothers cry.
In Washington, there are easier decisions and tougher ones. On December 7th, 1941, it was easier to declare that a state of war existed between the United States and Japan than would have been the case just one day earlier. And I fear that a weak president in the Oval Office, whenever this opportunity occurs, may opt to wait until the Islamic Republic of Iran attacks the United States before rallying this nation to a call to arms. Perhaps the record will show that an attack on this nation will be nuclear in nature. After all, if push comes to shove, we can get by without Baltimore, if that’s the city that hosts the first nuclear detonation on American soil. Sorry, Baltimore, you are collateral damage.
Or perhaps the initial attack by Iran will be a small detonation over the USS Abraham Lincoln on station in the Persian Gulf, with the loss of more than 5,000 American lives. Five thousand precious American lives. Imagine five thousand mothers weeping in the silence of their homes across this nation, or a huge section of Baltimore a newly-formed sheet of glass for a thousand years. And an administration then and only then moving forward to suppress a hostile nation, taking appropriate but highly necessary actions, and ending a conflict that might have been ended without those losses of American lives.
When you said, “to preserve and protect,” Mr. President-Elect or Madam President-Elect (if this is to happen after the 2020 election), do not wait for us to be attacked to make your role in our history any easier. Make the tough decisions. Take the tough initiatives. Chart the difficult pathways, and protect the maximum number of our citizens, at all times. It is easy to be reactionary, perhaps even to invite an attack so we might justifiably respond. But to wait means to sacrifice lives, lives of men and women who deserve to fight and die in battle, should that be their lot. To waste those lives in order to give us ample excuse to respond puts you no higher on the scale of humanity than the man who carefully straps explosives to his precious child, and history will hold you accountable for your inaction.