Before the 2004 elections fade into history, it is good to remember that moral values were only part of the wining equation. There was another factor, indeed another moral value, which was all too quickly forgotten: honor.
It was the honor of the Vietnam veterans that suddenly entered into the debate. They had faithfully served our country and suffered vilification at the hands of the anti-war movement. When this episode of history once again came to light, the veterans’ spirited defense of their honor unexpectedly struck a chord in the hearts of countless Americans who could not bear to see that honor sullied once again.
These brave men remembered those who dishonored their service. Given that every man has the right to his honor, they rose to the occasion, overcame obstacles and won.
What makes this victory extraordinary is the fact the very concept of honor has suffered over the years. It is mistakenly associated with assumed self-importance or a useless defense of an imagined grandeur. Many belittle honor as a nostalgic return to days of chivalry and manners long gone.
The days of selfless dedication are supposedly over. In our egocentric age, self-fulfillment is sought before self-discipline. The pursuit of material happiness overrides any other concern. Our egalitarian society rejects the idea of recognizing any moral superiority.
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Indeed, honor finds no place save in the selfless hearts of those who value principles and higher ideals. Perhaps it is that very selflessness that moved so many to pay tribute to those veterans and restore, at last, some of the honor so brutally taken from them.
Honor is far from useless or anachronistic. It is what makes life worth living.
By definition, honor is the intrinsic splendor of that which is excellent. In face of that excellence, justice demands that we exteriorize our esteem, appreciation and respect. In doing this, we recognize the dignity or intrinsic worth of a person, office or task.
Thus, we have the obligation to honor those who have dignity wherever it be found, whether in a president or a mother. By the mere fact that a man is a president gives him a dignity that we must salute regardless of his person. By the mere fact that a woman is a mother, we must show her respect and esteem. These exterior signs of honor are not mere theatrical gestures but the means by which dignity shows itself.
For this reason, we must pay one of the highest honors to the soldier. By the mere fact that he is a soldier, he gives what he has of most excellent and value to society: his life. The soldier is willing to shed his blood for a higher cause. He serves with courage, strength, discipline, and heroism so that others might live in peace.
It is only right that we recognize this dignity and honor the soldier. We cheer him when he returns. We decorate him with medals when he shows uncommon valor. When insulted or despised, we come to his defense. His sublime sacrifice and dedication cannot be ignored or disdained.
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When unjustly vilified, the soldier must defend his own honor, not out of any desire for personal glory but to save the dignity of the soldier. He must protest lest he dishonor the excellence of his sacrifice.
Thus, when the veterans entered into the electoral debate, they did more than make a political statement. They defied an egoistic world filled with self-interests and ambitions. With touching determination, they risked all and proclaimed that honor is still alive in America.
Indeed it is an issue that goes beyond the veteran and soldier. Today we complain that there is no more dignity or excellence in society. We lament that moral values are being lost. Could it not be because we have lost the notion of honor? Should we not also be seeking a restoration of honor?