Brown: Military service not the only service

Phil Brown

Service to one’s country is a great achievement. It signifies one’s willingness to sacrifice some part of one’s life and, in extreme cases, one’s life itself for a cause greater than any person. When serving a country, state or municipality, one serves all members and wards of such governments. That selfless service is the heart of patriotism in the United States.

Patriotism can be expressed through many avenues of service, despite the overwhelming tendency to associate service to our country with the military. Indeed, the terms “servicemen and servicewomen” are often used in reference to our military personnel, and the phrase “the service” is colloquially used to mean the military.

This is somewhat of an understandable, albeit simple view of service in our country. Certainly no other form of service has been historically more likely to result in paying with one’s life, and few services could claim to take Americans so far from home for so long in service to their country.

To be clear, military personnel absolutely provide an important and necessary service to our country, but should not monopolize the credit given to those in “the service.” Teachers, police officers, diplomats, elected officials, medical professionals and dozens of other groups all provide services that help make this country what it is.

These groups might not be those who literally defend and protect our country or its interests abroad, but all services are integral in making and protecting the United States. It cannot be doubted that we as a country are far more than our borders and all the land between them.

After all, the United States was not founded solely by people with guns. It was founded by men and women who recognized a difference in ideas about politics, freedom, liberty and justice between themselves and the then-sovereign country of England. Soldiers certainly defended the newly independent nation, but it is exceedingly important to separate the two events.

To suggest otherwise — to suggest that soldiers were the only ones who founded our nation — belittles our forefathers as nothing more than citizens of a country that took what it wanted simply because it had the physical strength to do so. The military of the United States is composed of defenders, not creators.

Their duty is to defend that which they and the rest of the United States have created: an idea that goes beyond the physical world. That idea, and service to it, is what makes a patriot.

For example, demonstrators who participated in the 1960s Civil Rights movement were no less defenders of the idea of the United States of America than our military personnel are defenders of the physical United States.

Seemingly, some would disagree. During the past Fourth of July celebrations, Lady Gaga made somewhat of a stir when she altered the words to our national anthem at a Gay Pride rally ending with “a home for the gays.”

Former U.S. Rep. Allen West, a veteran of the army branch of the military, called Lady Gaga’s action “reprehensible,” saying that: “This young lady should be taken to Ft. McHenry and given a history lesson as to why Francis Scott Key wrote those incredible words.”

While many of us have heard the story of Key writing the words as a prisoner aboard a British ship while watching an overnight bombardment of Fort McHenry, we have also heard about how Abraham Lincoln never told a lie, Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity by flying a kite during a thunderstorm and that George Washington was 10 feet tall.

Certainly West has the right to maintain and voice his opinion, but if he is implying that our national anthem is a tribute only to our military and not our nation as a whole, perhaps he is the one who needs the history lesson.

It is all types of services, be they military or otherwise, that strengthen the intangible as well as physical borders of the United States.