This election year has generated a lot of talk about the role of America's military in the Middle East. Less frequently does the conversation turn to what's really at the heart of the matter - whether we, as Americans, are committed to a world blessed with freedom for all humankind.
The microscopic critiquing of what went wrong, what went right, and how well we're doing is all very important, particularly if we want to continue to conduct a successful military campaign. But often we forget to "zoom out" and take in the larger picture. Two nonprofits, the LOOC (Lives Out of Combat) Foundation and Freedom Is Not Free, have teamed up to remind Americans what this larger picture looks like.
The LOOC Foundation has created a feature-length documentary and a beautiful hardbound portrait book called Warriors …In Their Own Words. As the title indicates, the book and DVD are a compilation of sentiments from men and women in uniform about what their service means to them and what they believe it means to the world. These works contain snapshots of insight from service personnel in every American military branch, and even testimonials from servicemen in the United Kingdom. Many of the men and women interviewed are currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, while others recall their service in World War II, Korea or Vietnam.
Watching the documentary evokes a spectrum of emotions, from awe for what these men and women are willing to endure in the name of freedom to humbled thankfulness for their sacrifices. The portrait book drives home the timelessness of our need for warriors by opening with historical figures from the Peloponnesian War (431-422 BC), the Battle of Hastings (1066) and the French and Indian War (1731-1795).
The Warriors project is to show that our men and women in uniform - our warriors - hear a calling. They believe in the validity of their mission, and they know the difference they make in the world is palpable. They have volunteered to serve a higher purpose than themselves. As Colonel James D. McGinley of the Marine Corps states: "Those who have never worn the Cloth of our Nation may call it the military, but those in uniform will always say The Service."
Our warriors understand that America has a special calling to promote freedom and democracy. In the words of one Marine, "the United States is a beacon of light, whether we want to admit it or not." America's strength is further echoed in the confidence with which one soldier speaks of his calling: "There's no danger abroad that our troops can't handle."
Warriors also acknowledge personal betterment as an incentive to serve. One naval officer describes the personal fulfillment that his service has given him: "There's nothing better than knowing that you have served your country and answered your calling."
Another Marine attests to the sensation of a calling: "I felt it was my duty to do something. Because I can, I need to. Because there are so many who can't and want to …" As one airman describes it, his calling comes from a sense of duty: "It was just something that you needed to do, and you did it because it was expected."
All of the warriors interviewed communicate their belief that, at its core, the mission of their calling is to defend America and freedom, both here and abroad.
The calling to spread freedom and champion democracy did not originate with President Bush, or even with our Founding Fathers. The mission of democracy is much older than that, as Warriors reminds us through its selection of the famed funeral oration given by Pericles in commemoration of fallen Athenian soldiers for its foreword:
"Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. Our government does not copy our neighbors', but is an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while there exists equal justice to all and alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit."
Everything that is at stake now -- in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the threats posed by Iran and North Korea, in the insolence demonstrated by Russia in its invasion of Georgia -- is the same "everything" that has always been at stake for as long as men have made war. Our Declaration of Independence cites freedom as an unalienable right, not just for Americans but for all human beings. Our way of life, our very right to exist, is the "everything" for which our service men and women are willing to give so much of themselves. They fight to defend America's freedoms, and they fight to grant the gift of freedom worldwide.
You can order Warriors, the book and the DVD, at the LOOC Foundation's Web site. All the proceeds benefit Freedom Is Not Free, a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to aiding wounded troops, their families, and the families of the fatally wounded.
Rebecca Hagelin, a vice president at The Heritage Foundation, is the author of "Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That's Gone Stark Raving Mad" and runs the Web site HomeInvasion.org.