On Veterans Day, a Reflection on “Duty”

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Photo: Emily Metcalf

By Malia Hill

This Halloween, my youngest son was Captain America for Halloween.  A popular choice, based on the number of other Captain Americas we met while trick or treating that night, not to mention the positive reception he got from several houses.  Our neighborhood was host to a veritable army of tiny, muscle-bound, patriotic super-soldiers.  Clearly, the new movie, with its surprising themes of duty and self-sacrifice has reminded many of us about what we most admire in our heroes.


Duty.  It’s not a glamorous word.  But it’s the first item in the West Point motto.  And in the speech from General Douglas MacArthur that so many aspiring officers must learn (and quickly, if they want to avoid spending much of their first year doing push-ups under the eye of an upperclassman):

Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.

When great acts of valor and courage are committed, what is it that we hear most often from the heroes in question?  Not the vainglorious boasting that seems to be the default communication strategy of the 21st century.  Rather, “I was just doing my duty.”  For the soldier, that duty is to follow the lawful orders of his superiors and defend the freedom and security of our country.

Kinda puts into perspective that giant argument at your office over whose job it is to clean the coffee maker, doesn’t it?

And the members of our military must fulfill this duty despite all the curve balls and obstacles that get thrown their way: the questionable orders, bad or incompetent planning, use of the military as a political tool, and a country that often veers between hostility and indifference to their very existence.  And, of course, they are expected to give up many of their civil rights and risk their lives to do so.

So, once a year, we recognize the sacrifices made by our military by sleeping in, shopping, and going to the beach.

Maybe, this Veteran’s Day, we should instead reflect on our own duty as citizens and beneficiaries of those sacrifices.  Because we are not without our own responsibilities to the men and women of our Armed Forces.

We have a duty to recognize that there is a price paid for our comfort, safety, and liberty, and it is being paid every day by men and women who have left their families far behind and may never return to them.  This applies even when one might disagree with the mission or actions involved.  We are not required to treat every soldier with fawning adoration.  We are required to treat them with respect.

We have a duty to recall that the United States military is not intended to be a socio-political toy for us to use to forward every pet cause we may stumble upon.  They are there to protect our liberties, not serve as an experiment in political correctness or utopianism.

And, most of all, we have a duty to think seriously about what we ask our military to do—where we send them and why.  They should not be used frivolously or sent into danger without reflection.  Nor should we cede all responsibility to elected officials who have been known to use war and conflict as a tool to expand the government at the price of liberty.  And all too often, we have been content to leave the decision-making to politicians and then expect them to make the military dance to our collective mood shifts.

We are fortunate that there are thousands who serve and consider it their duty to defend us with their lives.  It is our duty to honor that pledge by treating it with the seriousness and solemnity it deserves.


Malia Hill is an associate of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.