Friday, May 25, 2012

A pre-Memorial-Day Thought

The United States of America is a mighty nation.

Our heroes are cowboys and soldiers, boxers, MMA fighters, and policemen. Not inventors or writers, or explorers, or priests, or diplomats. We define freedom, in part, as the right to bear arms. We stand our ground. And we condemn as cowards those nations that choose to sit out any particular conflict.

And we are a competitive nation. Whether buying the latest-model i-phone, choosing our favorite pizza joint or rooting for our favorite football team, we are constantly arguing that ours, or mine, is better than yours.

The Foreign Service is not exempt. A recent Secretary of State's Sounding Board discussion, which began with a suggestion that Foreign Service members be included in a law that allows military personnel stationed overseas to be considered none-the-less resident in their home state (for purposes ranging from homestead taxes, to being able to get an HHA mortgage, to in-state tuition for kids) quickly degenerated into a discussion of whether a soldier stationed in Germany sacrifices more for our country than a consular officer stationed in Iraq.

For the record, taken as a percentage of the total rather than merely the numbers themselves, almost as many FS members are injured or killed in the line of duty as soldiers. Many Foreign Service members are also veterans of the armed forces, and some continue to serve as military reserve members.

As we prepare to celebrate Memorial Day, it might be useful to remember that this day commemorates all Americans who have fallen in war, whether they were soldiers or civilians.

The parents, wives and children of those whose names are carved into the walls of the State Department did not feel less pain than the survivors of those whose names are carved into the Vietnam memorial two blocks down the road.

And the Foreign Service families separated from a loved one serving in Iraq or Afghanistan do not miss them less, or worry about them less, than the families of the soldiers who, in some cases, live and work side by side with Foreign Service members.

The military has a proud tradition and a broad political base and a really great public relations machine. And, in all seriousness, soldiers deserve both praise and respect. But the idea that, because they do, we do not, does an enormous disservice to many brave, proud and patriotic Americans, who do, indeed, voluntarily put their lives in harms way in order to make America safe.