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“Right is more precious than Peace”

By November 13, 2017 No Comments

What is the best way to honor the men and women who have served our country in the armed forces? Is it showing respect for our flag? Our national anthem? Or by providing better healthcare and support for our veterans?

Or, is the best way to honor our veterans to be more choosy in the ways that we use them? As I read James Schaap’s post on Friday about WWI, I couldn’t get the song “Over There” out of my head. It’s a very catchy tune, even if the lyrics are predictably vapid and sentimental about the reasons for fighting WWI from a US perspective. But I also couldn’t get Woodrow Wilson’s speech asking Congress for a declaration of war out of my head. The US entered the war to “make the world safe for democracy.”

That sounds nice, but what does it actually mean? Is the world unsafe for democratic countries? Has it ever been hostile to democracy, much less ‘unsafe’ for the exercise of democratic principles?
More importantly, did our participation in WWI “make the world safe for democracy”? I don’t know that we did, especially considering the second act of WWI – WWII.

Wilson spoke these words:
“It is a war against all nations. American ships have been sunk, American lives taken, in ways which it has stirred us very deeply to learn of, but the ships and people of other neutral and friendly nations have been sunk and overwhelmed in the waters in the same way. There has been no discrimination. The challenge is to all mankind. Each nation must decide for itself how it will meet it. The choice we make for ourselves must be made with a moderation of counsel and a temperateness of judgment befitting our character and our motives as a nation. We must put excited feeling away. Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion….
It is a distressing and oppressive duty, Gentlemen of the Congress, which I have performed in thus addressing you. There are, it may be, many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us. It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts –for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free….”

“Right is more precious than peace,” Wilson said. It’s been 100 years. How have we done thus far on the “right” part of war and armed conflict?

What are we fighting for? We have men and women giving life, limb, and their sanity to multiple conflicts around the world. Some never return home, and most others return home damaged psychologically, physically, and often both. Our armed forces pay a very high price in their personal lives and the lives of their families. I appreciate those who are willing to serve our country. But I can’t help but wonder what these high costs ultimately accomplish. Is our country safe? From inside threats? From individuals with weapons? From outside threats?

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if the United States instituted the draft and required rationing to support every war or undeclared war. How do you think Americans might respond if the sacrifice was spread out over the whole nation instead of just the volunteers who serve in the armed forces?

Maybe the best way to honor our veterans is to ensure that their sacrifices are not made lightly.

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.

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