Today we celebrate America’s war veterans, many of whom are my age or younger.
The human cost of U.S. military interventions has been high. Casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan are thankfully far lower than what we saw during the Second World War and even the Vietnam era, yet there are nevertheless thousands of young Americans who will carry injuries, and difficult memories, with them for the rest of their lives. I’m grateful for their sacrifice, and I hope that future leaders, including women and men drawn from the ranks of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, keep this sacrifice in mind before committing U.S. troops to combat.
At the risk of sounding sentimental, I feel very grateful to have been born in this country. We tend to take our physical security for granted, but it’s not a given. My father’s brother died in a civil war in his native country that led to the deaths of over a million people, and virtually all of the (modest) material possessions of my mother’s family were ransacked in a wave of looting that occurred around the same time. Urdu-speaking Biharis were targeted in large numbers by a vengeful population. Children lost parents, and the disorder helped spark famine and the spread of disease. Let’s just say it was a grim and difficult time, particularly for small children like my sisters.
This experience instilled in both of my parents a certain measure of risk-aversion, but it also gave them a sense that whatever good fortune we enjoy can always evaporate. As Joseph Nye said years ago, security is like oxygen: we don’t notice it until we start losing it. Our military is the foundation of our security. That doesn’t mean the military should be immune to criticism or scrutiny — that would represent an abdication of our duties as citizens. But it is something to keep in mind when we reflect on the free and prosperous lives that we’re privileged to lead.