While I Swim at Home, Our Combatants Fight On
by Ben Stein (from NewsMax Magazine June 2008, Pg. 34)
THERE IS A MAGNIFICENT SCENE IN BLADE RUNNER, MY FAVORITE postwar movie, in which Rutger Hauer, who plays a replicant, a human-looking robot, prepares to die. He tells his possibly human pursuer, Harrison Ford, that he has seen amazing things in his short life far out in outer space, and then he folds himself up and says, “Time to die.”
As I get older, at a breakneck pace, I often think of the most beautiful, magnificent sights I have seen. The night sky in Santa Cruz, California, where I lay on a picnic bench and watched more stars than I had ever seen. It was a perfect moment of peace. I think of the Upper Priest Lake in Bonner County, Idaho, a lake three miles long, totally as nature made it eons ago, surrounded by forests and mountains, the Canada border a stone’s throw away, immense eagles soaring overhead, with only one other guest, a young man windsurfing along the placid waters. And people say there is no God?
Then I think of my German Shorthaired Pointers lying in each others’ paws as they sleep on the bed next to me. And I think of my saintly wife, with her perfect profile, reading in bed next to me, and I think of how lucky I was to find my soul’s perfect companions — my wife and my hounds.
But there is something I find even more amazing, even more moving: the sights of young men and women in the uniforms of the United States military, the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, the Coast Guard, the Reserves, and the Guard. It isn’t just that they look great in their uniforms and their tall, straight posture.
No, what is amazing to me, and a spectacular sight, is that these are human beings with the same wishes and dreams for a long, peaceful, fulfilled life as you and I have. But they have offered up their young lives and their bodies and their health and their peace of mind and their very sanity — and that of their families — to go out and fight for my worthless, selfish life and comfort.
I sit at home. I swim in my pool. I play with my dogs. I make fresh Alaskan salmon for my wife on the grill. Then I check my stocks and then I go to sleep with the loves of my life as the air conditioning and the electric blanket and the mattress keep me perfectly comfortable.
They — the military in combat — sleep in ditches if they can sleep at all. They get their legs blown off. They have permanent brain damage. They go to eternity before their time. They live with the fear of torture if they are captured by the terrorists. They leave their children behind. They miss years at a time of their babies growing up. Their wives — the true backbone of the nation — keep the family together while the soldiers keep the perimeter of terror far from our hearths.
And for this, they are paid modest wages, at best. They lose their families all too often. They live in extreme discomfort. They are treated like commodities to be moved on a chessboard of global struggle.
Imagine, just imagine, what it is like to be in combat! Imagine the smartest people on the planet, the Germans and the Japanese, armed with the best weapons man can devise, trying to kill our fathers and grandfathers while they struggled in mud and snow and hail and freezing rain. And then the war ends and we drive in cars with tail fins, and they who once tossed grenades at Japanese pillboxes now coach the high-school tennis team, and combat is just a nightmare. Imagine that while we complain about the stock market and how expensive gasoline is, they fight it out with terrorists who use retarded children as suicide bombers and have no such thing as conscience.
Then they come home and see that there is no mention of them in the news, that the media cares only about deranged movie stars and recording artists and how much people weigh. They, the soldiers, marines, sailors, pilots, guard, Coast Guard, reserves, are invisible and alone.
Then, the combat stars go back to fight again, and we continue to worry about interest rates.
God help us. God bless them, the thin pillars on which all of mankind’s tomorrows’ hopes rest, the most glorious sight on heaven and earth. They should be the first thoughts in our prayers every moment of every day. They are the real miracles.
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