Wars may change with time, but warriors remain the same. Their motives are often mixed: Part of them may seek glory and adventure, but mainly they fight out of national pride. They believe what they enjoy in society is worth preserving, so they’re willing to sacrifice their lives to defend it.

Wars may change with time, but warriors remain the same.

Their motives are often mixed: Part of them may seek glory and adventure, but mainly they fight out of national pride. They believe what they enjoy in society is worth preserving, so they’re willing to sacrifice their lives to defend it.

You can’t help but marvel at such selflessness. Imagine being so committed to seeing others enjoy the privileges you have that you’d rather die than see them do without.

Sadly, history is littered with warriors being compelled to fight for ignoble causes. It’s difficult finding any honor in battling to preserve the Southern confederacy, and yet hundreds of thousands found this a worthy calling during the Civil War.

When I was in elementary school, I was disturbed to learn that one of my teachers was of German ancestry. My father served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and at that young age, I still considered Germans the enemy. They had, after all, tried to kill decent Americans like my dad.

U.S. troops were unjustly maligned during the Vietnam War. A depraved mindset led many opponents of the war to vent their rage on the brave souls who answered their nation’s call as well as on those who set the flawed foreign policies into motion.

Thankfully, this twisted view of our warriors has largely been eradicated. Those protesting the war in Iraq are no less vehement in their opposition than were their counterparts in the 1960s and ‘70s. But they recognize the value of the men and women who serve in the military and can differentiate between the warrior and the war.

But while such incidents are rare today, some people can’t help themselves in spewing their vitriol. One of my nephews is a freshman at a private military academy, and he came home for a visit a few weeks ago. He was accosted in public by someone in the suburb where he lives.

Seeing my nephew walk down the street in his academy uniform, a man walked up and began screaming at him. He threw out terms like “baby killer” in expressing his opposition to the war.

Another passer-by confronted the man and told him to lay off. To his great credit, my nephew kept his cool and went about his business.

Military conflicts bring out very strong emotions in people, as well they should. Every such undertaking attacks our collective conscience and creates divisions.

But we must not confuse our objection to any war with those who feel called to fight them. John Stuart Mill, a 19th century social philosopher, wrote this in 1862:

“War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice — a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice — is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.”

Debating when, how and why to go to war is crucial in a society of free people. But the noble spirit of our military personnel as embodied by Mill’s words is what we commemorate each Veterans Day.

Jerry Moore is a news editor with GateHouse Media Suburban Newspapers. He can be reached at jmoore@mysuburbanlife.com.