The Conservative Contingent: Remember, Remember the Eleventh of November

Andrew Lipian

How many Oberlin students or professors have crawled low in the sand avoiding bullets in order to save a fallen comrade, and how many would if the situation arose? Could Oberlin’s trendy hipsters or virtuoso pianists be issued M16s and convincingly defend themselves against Al Qaeda? What if you went to work every morning with the overwhelming thought that you may never come back home? That our country is so full of citizens willing to bear arms and defend us even while we are so beset by factions eager for our demise is grounds for great thankfulness, and the work they do under unimaginably threatening environments should inspire pride.

Even an eloquent description of the horrors of war and a convincing disagreement about the pertinence of today’s wars to national security are not probative for disdain when one considers the real value of our under-appreciated veterans: Without them, our vast resources and borders would be left completely vulnerable for others to penetrate and ravage. Without this nation’s ability to defend our people and protect our laws, think how many events worse than 9/11 would become routine occurrences. However, Nov. 11 does not share the same limelight as other holidays, and our veterans who routinely risk death at the hands of a cowardly improvised explosive device seldom make the headlines, while celebrities like Snooki and Justin Bieber are household names. Something is wrong here.

If every instance an Obie was late to a class or delinquent on a deadline rendered the risk of death, most likely none of us would still be alive today. None of you have to imagine shouldering that burden, because others who raised their hands to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States already have, every last uniformed volunteer. I recall a story in which a mechanic for a C-130 Hercules erred in a measurement by an eighth of an inch, and the resulting crash killed everyone in the plane. A member of my unit has already paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to his country, while my supervisor has just been deployed during her son’s senior year of high school; she will never get to see his last football game.

While the real threat of death lingers, the psychological pressures of losing your hearing from an explosive detonation, losing limbs or losing a family member back home whom you’ll never get another chance to see are mere samples of what our veterans undergo. Rather than show them respect by gift giving or saying “thank you,” most on campus are content at best to forget Nov. 11, and at worst to take pleasure in demeaning the very heroes who provide for their safety, most of whom they’ll never meet.

It has been said that those who demean our troops may not fully appreciate the gravity of how their license to criticize is protected by them, and that there is some violation of respect that has been earned, but not given, in this case. If the conflicts mentioned previously are not convincing enough that they deserve our respect, I don’t know what else would suffice. The sad truth that many Vietnam Vets were welcomed home with spitting and epitaphs like “baby killer” serves as a constant reminder of why the phrase “support our troops” is not just empty rhetoric.

Unlike the Occupy Wall Street movement, these men and women actually possess a clear message and they do work, rather than make signs, to accomplish it. When I hear them chanting about the 1 percent, I don’t think about the elite upper class, I think about the less than 1 percent in America who volunteer to serve in the Armed Forces. The other 99 percent should revere the 1 percent that are doing the real work to uphold liberty, and there are several ways to do this. Mail a gift to the desert where our troops bake in relative obscurity, seemingly forgotten while we all go about our scholarly duties at a prestigious liberal arts college like Oberlin. One could donate to the Fisher House, an organization that builds “comfort homes” in bases close to family so that wounded Vets are surrounded by support.

Honoring our veterans is not tantamount to relinquishing peace or ignoring its noble ends. Peace is the end goal, but we must acknowledge that, like freedom, it isn’t free and those who may have had to pay the price know this better than any. I’m proud that my father, Henry P. Lipian, served in the U.S. Coast Guard in Desert Storm, and I am proud to be an Airman in the world’s superior air power, the U.S. Air Force. On Halloween we can dress in scary costumes, on Christmas we can be brimming with goodwill, but even if we don’t get off school on Veterans Day like we do on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, at least find a soldier and say, “Thanks for all you do.” Saying thanks is free, but protecting our inalienable rights often fetches the highest price. Remember that without our veterans, life and liberty are forfeited — unless you plan to brandish a weapon and defend it yourself.