“…the soldier ought to train himself in every variety of change and irregularity, and, above all, to bring himself to endure hunger and the loss of sleep without difficulty.” Plutarch
Warfare has always been a part of the human condition and throughout recorded history philosophers and historians have taken a paradoxical, perhaps even schizophrenic take on warfare. On one hand ancient historians, philosophers and theologians have debated the causes of war, recorded it horrific effects and the morality of governments employing warfare . On the other hand, people have always been fascinated by the drama of war and our common myths and histories have reflected this. Greek historian Thucydides recorded the horrors of a world-wide thirty year-long Greek civil war (The Peloponnesian Wars) with its terrors of mass destruction of cities, disease and famine while Herodotus records the heroism of outnumbered Greeks defending their polis and families from Xerxes’s Persian armies. We have been enthralled with the mythical heroism, tragedy and yes, adventure of Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey as well as the true adventure of Greek general Xenophon’s successful evacuation of ten thousand Greek mercenary soldiers under his command from deep behind enemy lines in Persia. War brings out the best, and the worst of us and does so with cold honesty. As Julius Caesar noted, the stress of combat would crack open the truth of a man’s hidden inner strengths, virtues and weakness for all to see. As he observed in the heat of battle: “It was the hour that proclaimed the man.”
But war had its heroes too and ancient historians noted that war also held the lure of adventure and personnel glory. It is a recurring theme in Plutarch’s “Lives of Noble Greeks and Romans” that talented men sought leadership in war as a means of adventure and political ambition. However, some of Plutarch’s noble Greeks and Romans had more altruistic motives: Roman General Titus Flamininus lead an army into Greece, not as a conqueror, but a liberator. He freed Greece from the invading tyrant King Phillip of Macedonia and took great satisfaction in “reconciling Greeks with Greeks.”
Flamininus himself sought war only to bring about a more just peace. Plutarch lauds him as a man of courage and wisdom who knew not only the art of war “but how to employ that success [of war] to generous and honest purposes.” Flamininus was one of the first practitioners of nation building and encouraged the newly liberated Greeks to “obedience to law, of constant justice, and unity, and friendship with one another. “
The New Testament has two other examples of soldiers serving in a foreign land engaging in “nation building” with the Roman Centurion of Capernaum from Luke’s Gospel and the Roman Centurion Cornelius in the Acts of the Apostles. As you read through the accounts below notice how the Centurion’s acts of charity towards the Jewish people are acts of love not just duty. Even more startling, neither Jesus or the Apostle Peter ask these men to leave the Roman Army even as they follow God! The Roman Officers’ faith in God and their love of their follow human beings are totally compatible and interwoven into their responsibilities as soldiers and leaders. The implication is that a soldier, serving with justice and love toward others, is a vocation.
When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
Luke Chapter 7 v 1-10
There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman Army. He and his whole household were pious, Gentile God-worshippers. He gave generously to those in need among the Jewish people and prayed to God constantly. One day at nearly three o’clock in the afternoon, he clearly saw an angel from God in a vision. The angel came to him and said, “Cornelius!”Startled, he stared at the angel and replied, “What is it, Lord?” The angel said, “Your prayers and your compassionate acts are like a memorial offering to God. Send messengers to Joppa at once and summon a certain Simon, the one known as Peter. From the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 10
Into this breach of protocol this quiet, unassuming man stepped up to the podium. He was the Afghan Minister of Defense, Abdul Rahim Wardak and his heart-felt, unprepared remarks changed my perspective on the year ahead in an unexpected way.
He began by saying how amazed he was at the dedication of the American military for traveling thousands of miles from their homes and families, especially since he lived in a country were most people rarely ventured a few miles from the village they were born in. It was nice of him to notice our sacrifices to deploy to Afghanistan but what he said next changed everything:
The People of Afghanistan are touched by the generosity and bravery of Americans. … Their willingness to leave their families, to sacrifice even their lives so that the people of Afghanistan can have a better future. I am touched by such love and I can only hope that the people of Afghanistan will show themselves worthy of such love shown to them.
– Abdul Rahim Wardak February 2006
I was stunned, In the mist of war, this man talked about love. How sacrifice on behalf of those we served as soldiers was love. From that moment on thru the rest of my deployment, I vowed to see my service in Afghanistan as an opportunity to practice love and not ever allow myself a moment of focus on my circumstances. Thank you Mr. Wardak, for your words of wisdom and for having the courage to speak out that day even though it ruffled the pomp and circumstance of the moment.
I want to take a moment to thank all of my family members who have served with love and honor in the military over the years. They were not only good soldiers, but more importantly they were, and are, good men.
- Brother David Bolton Lt. Colonel (US Army): Gulf War
- Cousin John Heslin Lt. Colonel (US Air Force): Afghanistan
- Cousin Jim Heslin Captain (US Army): Cold War
- Uncle Thomas Savoie Lt. Colonel (US Army): Cold War
- Uncle Paul Savoie Technical Sergeant (US Air Force) Cold War
- Uncle Jack Heslin Lt. Colonel (US Army) multiple tours Vietnam
- Great Uncle James Bolton Sergeant (USMC) India and Pacific WWII
- Great Uncle Thomas Bolton Chief Petty Officer (US Navy) WWII Pacific theater, only survivor of the USS Bain
- Great Uncle Raymond Gaffney Sergeant (US Army) WWII
- 5th Great Grandfather Laurent De Soly, Spanish soldier served with a Swiss Regiment in Ft. Louisbourg, Acadia, Canada
- 18th Great Grandfather Amadeus VI Count of Savoy (Crusades)
- 47th Great Grandfather Flavius Richomeres General (Roman Army): At Adrianople he tried to persuade Roman Emperor Valens to wait on additional forces for support before engaging the Goths. When the Gothic leader Fritigern demanded hostages to secure peace from the Romans Flavius Richomeres volunteered and departed the Roman camp to bring the other hostages safely to Fritigern, but before he arrived some elements of the two armies got out of control and engaged, starting the famous Battle of Adrianople. Richomeres ended up at a battlefield in complete chaos but he saved himself and a portion of the Roman Army from annihilation by withdrawing. However the Roman army of Valens was largely destroyed and many officers fell including emperor Valens.
My Uncle Jack is certainly one of my heroes. When I was a child during the Vietnam War, he took on an almost mythical in stature. He is also a dedicated historian of the Vietnam and hosts an informative website on the Battle of Kontum late in the Vietnam war. If you have served in Vietnam, or the military or just have a deep respect of what our Vietnam veterans sacrificed for our country then please visit his website. http://thebattleofkontum.com/
It has all of the drama, tragedy and heroism worthy of Plutarch, Thucydides , Herodotus and Xenophon.