Citizens and Soldiers and Moral Burden

I’m not entirely sure what to feel or think about this essay by Phil Klay, except that I know it is important to read it. It covers a lot of ground, from the changing and historical conceptions of the “citizen soldier” to the moral risk and challenge war brings to all of us in a society that engages in it, not just to soldiers and veterans. It is a long read but immeasurably valuable. This, in particular, spoke to me, but is only part of the essay’s unsettling and necessary theme:

The divide between the civilian and the service member, then, need not feel so wide. Perhaps the way forward is merely through living up to those ideals, through action, and a greater commitment by the citizenry to the institutions of American civic life that so many veterans are working to rebuild. Teddy Roosevelt once claimed a healthy society would regard the man “who shirks his duty to the State in time of peace as being only one degree worse than the man who thus shirks it in time of war. A great many of our men … rather plume themselves upon being good citizens if they even vote; yet voting is the very least of their duties.” That seems right to me. The exact nature of those additional duties will depend on the individual’s principles. What is undeniable, though, is that there is always a way to serve, to help bend the power and potential of the United States toward the good.

All of us are called to serve our society, not blindly because that would not render true service, yet to give of ourselves all the same. So often we shy away from that, afraid, willfully ignorant. Yet it is our sacred duty to work to the good. Like the soldiers we send to war we are not wholly at fault for the evils and tragedies all around us, and yet, like them, we carry a moral burden that we owe to one another and to God not to ignore.

Read the full essay here

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