Why We Fight
A gathering of patriots.


Those of us who have worked steadily with the Iraqis know what many of us suspected from the beginning — Iraqis are a good and decent people struggling to resurrect a country that has been at perpetual war for nearly 30 years. In Al Anbar, we’ve seen the Iraqi army and Iraqi police come a long way in their efforts to drive the scourge of al Qaeda from this land. Many of them have died fighting right next to our Marines and soldiers, speaking pidgin English, and quoting American movies and sitcoms. As President Bush realized recently on his trip to Albania, many Muslims have no problem with America and want the good things that our country has to offer. Those of us Americans in Iraq can go north to Kurdistan and we’ll be warmly greeted by millions of Kurds who have already formed a mini-America. Still, there are the criminals and cultists of al Qaeda and Iran that want to stop any dialogue between the West and Islam. We stand between them and the Iraqi people for the time being. While we are here, we will do everything to prevent the evil and the wicked from taking this country and its people because they are worth fighting for.

– Tony Licari is a captain in the United States Marine Corps, currently serving in Iraq.

W. Thomas Smith Jr.
Why we fight? I won’t speak for others, but for me the answer is pretty simple.

Twenty-five years ago, I enlisted in the Marines under a “guaranteed infantry” contract. It was the only way I would join. If there was war, I wanted to fight; and for two reasons: Love of country and a chance for adventure. Nothing more.

Fast forward to 2007. I no longer carry a rifle or wear the eagle, globe, and anchor. But I’m still a Marine — you never really leave the Corps — and I’m still in the fight in my own way as a military writer and correspondent. The reasons, however, have matured. The sense of adventure is somewhat tempered. The love of country has deepened. Why the latter? Because — though I’ve always loved America — I’ve now traveled much of the world and learned what freedom and the lack of it really mean. I no longer take freedom for granted. I know that sounds mawkish and cliché. But just as a man’s love for his wife and children grows and deepens with age, so too his love — if it was ever really there — for his country and what it has given him over the years.

Like the rest of us, I’ve always known the words of Patrick Henry. As a boy, I associated his phrase with historic drama. Today, I understand it as passion, and I now feel bound to the soul of the man who said, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

A former U.S. Marine infantry leader, W. Thomas Smith Jr. writes about military issues and has covered war in the Balkans, on the West Bank, and in Iraq. Smith is the author of six books, and his articles appear in a variety of publications. He blogs at The Tank.

Buzz Patterson
I sought my commission in the Air Force initially because I wanted to learn to fly and see the world. Quickly, however, my service evolved into something quite different. Through my early training I was taught the virtues of duty, honor, discipline, selfless service and moral character. I understood then that there was something unique and ultimately satisfying in serving one’s country. The virtues that America was founded on still had a home in the military. I was introduced to the bonds of trust that develop between soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. One of my very first military operations was flying into Grenada on the first day of President Ronald Reagan’s bold intervention to stem Communism in the Caribbean. I had fellow Americans depending on me, and I was mutually dependent on them. It’s a bond that defies description, a kinship and an understanding that only those who share common experiences and common losses can understand. If I didn’t have it before, I certainly had it from that point on — an overwhelming pride in my country and in my fellow servicemen and women. Whether it was through operations in Somalia, Bosnia, or Haiti, I was honored to lead the finest Americans I have ever known and it was my privilege to serve our nation for the betterment of peoples everywhere.

– Robert “Buzz” Patterson is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and vice chairman of Move America Forward. He is author of the new book War Crimes.

Joseph Morrison Skelly
The Fourth of July is one of the most inspiring of moments to ask the question, “Why do we fight?” My fellow soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, like generations of patriots extending back to 1776, fight, among other aims, to defend the eternal truths encapsulated in the very document we commemorate today as a nation. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the Declaration of Independence boldly proclaims, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

In these words are found principles that give dignity to life and life to the oppressed. It is important to note, in our relativistic age, that the Declaration speaks of them as truths — and that they are. It is true that all men are created equal: The Book of Genesis reveals how “God created Man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them,” thus exalting the worth of every individual. It is true that we are endowed by our Creator, and not by any manmade system, with unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, according to the natural law tradition, are grounded not in our own hands, but in Divine will. It is true that our government was instituted for the limited purpose of safeguarding our natural rights, including property rights and freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press. It is true that our democratic state draws its authority from popular consent, thus making possible government of, by, and for the people.

On July 4, 1776, our Founding Fathers set in train a series of events whose outcome, it is always essential to recall, was not preordained. Enormous effort and endless sacrifice eventually secured victory. Today these same qualities are required of every American in the face of a sinister enemy who kills without mercy. The Revolutionary War was fought for independence. The War on Islamic Terror is waged to defend our liberty, and all that is decent in democratic life.

We are not alone. The Declaration of Independence stands as an eloquent expression of American political thought. It is also part of a larger Anglo-American tradition of consensual rule, with its origins in the moderate wing of the Enlightenment, the writings not only of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, but of John Locke, David Hume, and Adam Smith. The latter three of these philosophers were British. With the recent bombing attempts in London, we are reminded that our ancient adversary is now our closest of allies. Meanwhile, the principles of democratic self-government and natural rights enjoy a growing appeal among freedom-loving people throughout the world. Now it is Americans who must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the British — and with the victims of Islamic terrorism everywhere, with Iraqis and Israelis, Afghanis and Spaniards, Jordanians and Australians, the French and the Algerians, Indonesians and Filipinos. That is the destiny of America today, 231 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That is why we fight. And that is why we will win.

Joseph Morrison Skelly is a history professor in New York City. An officer in the United States Army Reserve, he has served a tour of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Owen West
As a young boy, I knew I would be a Marine. I did not know why. Like so many Marine infantryman serving today, I am the son of a Marine. But I didn’t feel pressured. The impulse was lodged deep, a relentless call of the wild.

Today’s career Marines are bulwarks. It’s said that America’s most precious resource is its children, but in a time of war it may be the professional guardians who serve at the pleasure of the President. I’m a wanna-be, and I serve at the pleasure of my wife — two tours in Iraq as a Marine and a short stint as a reporter. Puny compared to many of my friends, but between my wife and two youngsters who were either born while I was overseas or suffered because of it, I suppose we’ve done our part.

I fight because there’s a war on. We didn’t start it but we better be damned determined to end it. Say what you want about the Iraq invasion and unintended consequences. That doesn’t change the facts that the rotten core of the insurgency there is our mortal enemy, and that the long war is in its infancy. In a fight you move forward from where you are, not where you want to be.

Also, I fight because I’m a Marine. And Marines like to fight.

– Owen West, a Wall Street trader and major in the Marine Reserves, has served two tours in Iraq.