January 31, 2015 15 Comments
It’s been an interesting week, hasn’t it? The 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, more news about (not charged) deserter Bowie Bergdahl, and the uproar about the movie American Sniper bookended by the anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s death and funeral.
It has caused me to think a good bit this week on some old (and hard) words, like duty, and honor, and betrayal, and cowardice, and courage. Wordsworth had this to say about duty
O Duty! if that name thou love
Who art a light to guide, a rod
To check the erring, and reprove;
Thou, who art victory and law
When empty terrors overawe;
From vain temptations dost set free;
And calm’st the weary strife of frail humanity!
Nothing wrong with any of that, I think. But it doesn’t do much to speak to the sheer terror of doing our duty, in battle, yes but also, for those of us who stay behind and love them. But duty takes many guises doesn’t it? It’s not always our life on the line, sometimes it’s our reputation, and sometimes our livelihood, and sometimes it gets turned on its head and we are threatened if we do our duty. Doing one’s duty is what built the British Empire and the United States as well. One could call it the chief Victorian virtue.
But then as now there were many who failed in their duty. In our relatively soft and relativistic world, many make excuses for them. But our forefathers had a word,and ugly word, for them, which admitted not wiggle room.
That word was coward. And they would apply it even to one who did his duty in a lackadaisical manner, doing just enough to get by, or finding a safe posting. that type of cowardice wouldn’t get you jailed or executed, usually but it would ruin your career, military and/or civilian, and ruin your chances to advance in society.
And the other thing we see in that society is a willingness to pay the price of the policies one believed in, even in blood. And that brings us to todays movie. This is not a happy movie. It is a movie of duty performed, even unto death, set against the Great War, It is also, true.
That is the kind of discipline and duty that built our modern world, It is also what is required to keep it strong and vibrant.
We’ve some improvements to make, I think.