by Austin Bay
December 23, 2003
Time Magazine has given its 2003 "Person of the Year" award to "The American Soldier."
Credit Time's editors with recognizing our servicemen and women's personal sacrifice and extraordinary valor in defense of freedom.
The magazine offers a poignant and penetrating look at the individual risks, burdens and triumphs of citizen soldiering during a most pivotal 12 months in The War on Terror.
Here's a sample of cover story writer Nancy Gibbs' incisive prose: "To have pulled Saddam Hussein from his hole in the ground brings the possibility of pulling an entire country out of the dark. In an exhausting year when we've been witness to battles well beyond the battlefields ... in the streets, in our homes, with our allies ... to share good news felt like breaking a long fast. ... And who delivered this gift, against all odds and risks? The same citizens who share the duty of living with, and dying for, a country's most fateful decisions."
"Person of the Year" should be the first in a crescendo of honors. Frankly, the grand accolade U.S. GIs have earned is the Nobel Peace Prize.
Peaceniks perish the thought? It's high time, actually. Pacifists didn't liberate Nazi concentration camps, American GIs and British Tommies did. This past year, U.S. Central Command and crack line units like the Army's Third Infantry Division did far more to promote and secure real peace and justice on this broken and brutalized Planet Earth than decades of posturing peace marches and thousands of toothless U.N. declarations deploring dictators and genocide.
In the raw mathematics called body count, dropping Saddam's fascist death machine saved 50 thousand to 60 thousand Iraqi lives -- the innocents his henchmen would have slain during 2003 while the United Nations fiddled and France burned with anti-American ressentiment.
Iraqis freed of Saddam's moment-by-moment terror know American GIs brought that blessing, belated as it is.
It is an intricate, complex paradox, that warriors waging just war are the source of a more resilient peace.
Gen. George C. Marshall, a man of impeccable credentials as a warrior, won the Nobel Peace Prize as secretary of state, with the Marshall Plan as the official raison d'etre. However, there would have been no Marshall Plan to put in place if Allied forces hadn't toppled Hitler -- and Marshall, as FDR's Army chief of staff, was intimately involved in that long and bitter task.
At this time of year, when we pray to the Prince of Peace, laud Peace on Earth, and wish one another cheer and goodwill, it is fair to damn our terrible condition.
The numbers appall: Depending on how one parses the combat, there are at this moment between 80 and 110 armed conflicts (a euphemism for wars grand and petty) occurring around the globe.
Several historical studies have attempted to determine how many years of peace have occurred in humankind's 5,000 years of recorded history. "The results vary from a few hundred to a few dozen years of peace," says James Dunnigan, military historian and editor of www.StrategyPage.com. "But these exercises always depend on how one defines peace. I would say there have been no years in man's recorded history where there has been no war."
Why is conflict so endemic to our species? The Italian poet Petrarch wrote: "Five great enemies to peace inhabit within us: avarice, ambition, envy, anger and pride. If those enemies were to be banished, we should infallibly enjoy perpetual peace." Avarice, ambition, envy, anger, pride: Shakespeare made villains of them all. They reappear every 30 minutes on cable TV news.
Gen. Marshall observed: "If man does find the solution for world peace, it will be the most revolutionary reversal of his record we have ever known."
What is to be done? The eagle on our national seal casts his eyes toward the talons that clutch branches symbolizing peace; the other sharp foot clasps arrows. May God bless our hopes for a world without war. But given the strange mix of heaven and hell that we are, may we pray for the wisdom to prepare for both the worst and the best.