combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 03 Number 02 Spring ©Apr 2005

To Bear Any Burden

"We stand today on the edge of a new frontier ... a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats .... The new frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises — it is a set of challenges."
by John Fitzgerald Kennedy [13 July 1960 Democrat's Convention acceptance speech]

Most people can't differentiate between obedience and discipline, direction and leadership, responsibility and liability; but everyone can recognize imperfection. Facile criticisms of an army by inferior dissidents doesn't mean the plaints are not true. The slackers and croakers, soaks and spongers, coxcombs and yellowbellies, deadbeats and bummers, dodgers and loafers, young-lions and second-guessers, misfits and duds, feather-merchants and goldbrickers, who rightfully deserve this ignominy, are not unlike their civilian peers, except that the standards of comparison are different. Rectifying an army's delinquencies usually means resolving larger societal defects. The critics either focus on the acts, or fixate on the cause, but few relate them to the prevailing ethos. They reckon that martial law or corporal punishment is wrong, but they will not consider the effects of craven disobedience during battlefield drills; because they have never been chastised. They will infer that summary executions, from ancient Macedonia to modern China, are always wrong, but they will never consider the effects of dastardly mutiny; because their loyalty has never been tested. They will regard conspicuous brands permanently seared into the culprit for dishonorable breaches as inconsiderately wrong, but they have never dealt with flagrant misconduct; because their criminality is a privileged license accepted by errant neighbors. They think a functional hierarchy is demeaning and dehumanizing. They do not know that some armies have done well because the troops were slaves, and their officers were wardens; or because the troops were egalitarian, and their officers were functional paradigms. They don't know that some officers have been assassinated by their troops for cowardice, theft, or disrespect; and that some others have been worshipped for bravery, generosity, or affability. Except for righteous armies fighting liberating wars or popular conflicts, they know that military institutions are allegedly corrupt, because they're staffed by conscripts, mercenaries, mamelukes, lower-classes, and other untrustworthy disenfranchised peoples. They are convinced that a code of conduct is an abridgement of their civil liberties, or that a pledge of allegiance is a violation of their constitutional rights. They will never understand that integrity is more important than victory; and that the cohesion they disdain is the only thing enabling their individuality, autonomy, sovereignty. Everyone is imperfect and susceptible, but only some will claw their way upright, into bloodied but unbowed dignity, before the inevitable fall. They may never appreciate their vulnerability to soldierly constraint, to the heroic restraint that licenses them ... for their arrogance and ignorance persists at the sufferance of diligent patriots. Their privileged rectitude makes them immune, and their presumptive conceit makes them judgemental; and only their inferiors will endure their injustice, only their minions will accept their indictments. There can be no condign punishment for their willful dishonesty without abrogating our common ideals, so their insinuating disloyalty must be soberly endured. It's a burden that the best men should bear, must bear, must willingly bear. It's a burden that only the best men can bear.

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
by John Fitzgerald Kennedy [20 Jan 1961 Inaugural address]

by Pan Perdu
... who is a former soldier and VA counselor; this work has been excerpted from Fragmentations, a book in progress.