A couple weeks ago I had the privilege to talk briefly with a veteran who served in the recent Iraq war and was wounded in the spine by an IED. The doctors said he’d never walk again, yet there he was moving about with the aid of a cane. I found him and his story brave and admirable, but what I want to especially point out is a particular aspect of our conversation.
Having fought in Iraq, the issue of politics in war inevitably came up. It soon turned to the current threat of ISIS. He expressed his thoughts and then put the spotlight on me, wondering what a young American like me thought about it all. My mind immediately lighted upon an idea that I felt was true enough. I realized that America will probably have a hard time fighting ISIS, not because of weaponry or training (I’d say we beat them there) but in a more crucial way. I saw that, frankly, America lacks any cohesive ideal while ISIS is pretty solid on theirs.
An ideal, as a noun, can be defined as “a standard of perfection; a principle to be aimed at” (thank you, Google). The wars that America have been successful in have been the wars in which our ideal was clear. Typically the ideal was freedom and democracy. We used to have a patriotism unlike any other country. Americans used to be great fighters because they knew their ideal, understood the price to attain it, and pressed on through every hardship to see it accomplished. In recent decades, we’ve lost that.
Let’s face it, Americans are fattened cows roaming about the hillside for the next clump of green grass we can devour. Hundreds of restaurants spring up at every turn; convenience stores meet our every need; various venues to entertain us are in over-abundance. Not that any of those things are bad. They’re really the outpouring of the freedom our veterans have so bravely fought (and died) for. But an abundance of victories, over time, can lull even the greatest giant to sleep if he is not watchful.
And that’s where we are now, a sleeping giant stirring restlessly at the sound of wars and upheaval far away and yet of immediate concern. I, like every good American, want to see ISIS defeated and dismantled, blotted out from the face of the earth. But while I’m no military adviser or high-up politician, I can see what’s happening on the home front, and what I see needs to change if we want any hope of soundly standing up to ISIS. What we need is an ideal, an ideal of freedom (largely rooted in a strong sense of morality) that pushes past our cynicism and awakes us from our slumber to defend the things we hold so dear.