Veterans Day, aka Armistice Day, has a particular resonance for me, since it’s also my birthday. It’s a sobering thing to discover, at a very young age, that you were born on a day that commemorates the ending of a war—and not just any war, but arguably the most horrendous war in human history. I found that sense of perspective helpful in orienting myself in both history and in my relative significance to the larger universe.
Getting a day off from school didn’t hurt either.
We also take the opportunity to remember and honor the sacrifices of those who have served in our nation’s armed forces throughout its history to the present day. Living in a prosperous country whose shores have not been touched by war in a very long time, it’s easy to forget those who stand guard at lonely outposts, far from friends and family, putting their lives at risk daily to keep our land free and secure or to help others to do the same. It’s easy to think of war as something that happens to somebody else—out of sight, out of mind.
It’s good to set a day aside to think about that a while.
Becky recently discussed war in the context of fantasy fiction, but I prefer science fiction in this case because it seems to grapple more directly with the topic of war itself. It not only speculates about how war might evolve but almost invariably speaks to the impact of war on the individual, and on how the lot of the soldier doesn’t really change very much, no matter how exotic the weapons, or the means of transportation, or the battlefield might become. It also talks about what happens in war’s aftermath, and how warfare leaves an indelible imprint on soldiers that can make them misfits in the same society that sent them off to fight.
The idea of “duty” comes up a lot, the sense that we have a responsibility to take action when evil arises, that acting in defense not only of one’s home and hearth, but often in aid of strangers in peril next door, halfway around the world, or perhaps even across the galaxy, is somehow essential for those who would call themselves human beings…or children of God. That sense of duty is something a military person learns early in their career, and it begins with a commitment to the people beside you, fighting on your left and right. If you take that training to heart, it never leaves you, even when you’re out of uniform and spending your golden years dozing in front of the television in a rocking chair. Ask any veteran.
Here’s an illustration from one of my favorite writers of military-flavored science fiction, Keith Laumer. It’s a tale of two forgotten veterans who never forgot their duty: “The Last Command.” Read the preface by David Drake and the afterword by Eric Flint, too.