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Celebrating our U.S. armed forces

We owe it to service members to make sure our government deploys the military justly and wisely

A U.S. Marine takes part in a joint military exercise in the Philippines on May 6. Associated Press/Photo by Aaron Favila

Celebrating our U.S. armed forces
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America celebrates our Armed Forces this week, culminating in Armed Forces Day on Saturday, May 18. Americans dedicate this week to honor the men and women who are currently serving our country, even as the marker is one of those lesser-known observances on our national calendar. The average age of our armed forces service members is 29 and younger, with many having graduated from high school in just the past four years.

What are the appropriate ways we can honor those currently serving? First, by ensuring the social contract to care for their health and safety and for the well-being of their families. Tied to this social contract is the understanding that when they are sent into harm’s way, it is because national leaders have determined that deploying the military is for U.S. national security purposes and is in alignment with just war theory, with decisions made by proper government authority, for a just cause, and with the right intention.

I routinely speak to students, and they regularly ask about the morality of using military force, and this is how they often ask the question: “Is there ever a time when it is moral and appropriate for us to use force?” Those three principles answer the question that there are times that government officials have a responsibility to pursue security and justice and that they can do so with right motivations, such as righteous indignation towards injustice and neighbor-love activating defense of the vulnerable.

Students then typically focus on specific conflicts. If our national borders and territory are attacked, our government has a responsibility to act to defend our citizens. At the same time, the United States has a network of alliances, the most important of all being our North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) obligations. We and our allies such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Poland, made a commitment that if one of us is attacked, it is an attack on all of us (Article 5). In our collective security arrangements, there are also other times we may need to use force. For instance, when there’s a violent violation of international law in our immediate neighborhood (e.g. the Caribbean, Mexico) or when other key allies, such as South Korea, Japan, or Australia, are attacked. The United States has also promised to act in certain other instances (i.e. the Genocide Convention) to stop gross human rights abuses such as genocide.

This week, we should reflect on those serving our country and consider applying these principles to specific conflicts during the Biden administration.

This Armed Forces Day, thank one of our magnificent heroes in uniform.

When one considers the hasty surrender of Afghanistan to the Taliban in 2021, it is hard to see how that set of strategic choices was good for us or our allies. Not only did we leave behind hundreds of thousands of Afghan supporters and allies, but when the administration fled the scene, the decision resulted in the deaths of U.S. personnel (note: no U.S. military personnel had died in combat in Afghanistan for more than a year). Moreover, within just a few months the intelligence community reported that Afghanistan was once again a potential launchpad for terrorist strikes on the U.S. homeland. When it came to Afghanistan, our young adults were in danger, but they seemed to be keeping the focus of some forms of terrorism at bay far from our shores, and we had few deaths in recent years.

When it comes supporting Ukraine, neither major U.S. political party is calling to insert U.S. combat troops. That being said, the Biden administration has pursued a prudent policy: Keep the Russia threat—a present threat to our NATO allies—tied down in a war in Ukraine, while the West gives the Ukrainians a fair chance to defend themselves. Containment is an appropriate security strategy for dealing with a bellicose Russia.

What about Israel’s fight against Hamas? Strangely, students never ask me when we are going to send U.S. troops to release the U.S. citizens taken captive on Oct. 7. If practicable, such would be a morally legitimate use of force, although whether it is prudent must be carefully considered. On the other hand, the Biden administration is deploying a “humanitarian pier” to Gaza, ostensibly to provide humanitarian relief to Palestinian civilians. This pier has been built and will be moved into position under the direct protection of U.S military personnel. In other words, we are putting our military into the gunsights of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other groups. This is not a wise deployment of America’s soldiers and sailors. This policy decision places them as sitting ducks for terrorists. Just remember what happened in Somalia back in 1993.

This Armed Forces Day, thank one of our magnificent heroes in uniform. And, all of us—as taxpayers and citizens—ought to rededicate ourselves to the social contract of caring for our troops whether at home or when they are duty.

Eric Patterson

Eric Patterson is president and CEO of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., and past dean of the School of Government at Regent University. He is the author or editor of more than 20 books, including Just American Wars, Politics in a Religious World, and Ending Wars Well.

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