For months, political debates have raged around the country, escalating as the days before the election dwindled. Competing and perhaps incompatible visions of the country collided, and often the debates got heated. After so much mudslinging, many Americans have expressed annoyance with all the arguments and the election in general.
Yet this sentiment, while somewhat understandable, is ungrateful. We live in a country where free speech is an inherent right and free elections are the norm; most of us have known nothing else. These rights are a priceless gift granted and defended in large part by the armed forces of this great nation.
In the United States we have many choices available to us. Most students at Saint Louis University chose to attend college immediately after high school. They then chose a course of study, and when they graduate they will likely choose to pursue a career in any one of a variety of fields. Yet these choices are only available because someone else, possibly someone younger than most SLU students, made a very different set of choices: fatigues instead of flip flops, a battlefield instead of a classroom, service and possible death instead of studying and partying. Every person in America is in debt to our nation’s veterans, past and present, who have built a country in which choice is possible.
And when Americans made the choice that has made the most news headlines recently—the election of our president—that transition was made peacefully, without anyone resorting to violence in order to seize power. We must never forget that this is a rarity, an anomaly in the violent history of the human race. The security and stability this country enjoys is owed to our armed forces, men and women who both defend the nation against threats from without and respect the will of the people within.
Last Saturday, November 11 marked Veterans Day, a day set aside to commemorate and show gratitude for our veterans and armed service members. Yet we owe our veterans much more than a tip of the hat once a year. It is a tragic fact that in the year so far we have lost more American military personnel to suicide than to combat-related deaths. War is a scarring experience and we civilians may never truly understand that, but what we can do is reach out to those who have served our country. The smallest gestures of solidarity can make the biggest difference.
Furthermore, it is the duty of every individual and institution to help our veterans find a place when they return to the country they’ve served. As President Barack Obama said after winning last week’s election, we must “make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job, or a roof over their head when they come home.” Fortunately SLU has done an excellent job of this, being named a “Military-Friendly School” for several years running by the publication G.I. Jobs’ Military Friendly Schools. SLU offers numerous benefits to veterans so that they can get the education they need to find a job in today’s society, and we should recognize our university for its efforts in this area. Our veterans deserve no less from an American and a Catholic university.
As the old adage goes, freedom isn’t free. So let us use our freedom of speech, in unison, to thank our American veterans for all they’ve given us and this country.