Today we honor all men and women who have served our nation in its many armed conflicts. Many of us hail from families with records of military service. My grandfather served in the Second World War, two of my uncles in Vietnam, my brother and my wife’s cousin during the early days of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A distant ancestor served in the Union Army in the Civil War. War is at least as bad an experience as Hollywood depicts it. And yet at times it is unavoidable, and we owe a tremendous debt to every one of those who answer the call. That is especially true in our day, when all of our military is volunteer.
Every member of the military takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies foreign and domestic. It is worth noting that this is the first part of the oath; the last part is to obey orders. A textualist approach to the oath (sorry, can’t help myself) would see in that sequence that the first priority of the American military is the preservation of our constitutional order. Many openly doubt whether America is exceptional, whether it is unique among the nations. But the priority in the soldier’s oath, and our history of military subordination to civilian authority, is further proof of American exceptionalism.
We celebrate Veterans’ Day not only with gratitude for the service of so many of our fellow Americans in defense of our nation, but also with the knowledge that America’s military has never, in our 240 year history, intervened in our elections or been an independent force in our politics. Few nations in history could boast this. Yet it is an almost undoubted reality of American life, so true that few of us even stop to marvel at it.
This legacy is also one that we owe those who have served us in uniform. Thank you all, and Happy Veterans’ Day.