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This Veterans Day, Don’t Call It Sacrifice

A noble pursuit sacrifices nothing.

by
Walter Hudson

Bio

November 11, 2013 - 7:15 am

veterans_day_14

As we take a too-infrequent moment to honor the service of our men and women in uniform this Veterans Day, let us consider our language and test whether it does them justice.

Commonly, we refer to the contribution made by those who serve in the military as a sacrifice. Our veterans have given up relatively comfortable alternatives to place themselves in harm’s way and protect our liberties. When we call that a sacrifice, we mean it honorably. Nevertheless, we may be selling our now and future veterans short by continuing to think of their choice in that way.

What is a sacrifice? It’s one of those words, like “love,” which has many nuanced meanings depending upon the context in which one uses it. For our purposes in this discussion, let’s settle upon this definition: a trade of value for something of lesser or no value. In order for something to be sacrificial, it must leave the giver worse off than they were before, right? How often do we lift up as virtue the notion of doing something for others without any expectation of receiving something in return?

Yet many of the things we commonly refer to as sacrifice do not fit that definition. When a college student passes on a night out with friends to stay in and study for a big test, he hardly ends up worse off for the trade. Yet, we call it a sacrifice. When a parent prioritizes the needs of their children above her own personal needs, she rarely thinks of the trade as a loss. Yet we think of that as sacrificial too.

In truth, many if not most of the things we call sacrifices actually stand as rational value judgments. Studying for an important test has greater value than a single night out on the town. Providing for one’s children has greater value than indulging yourself to their neglect. We make such choices in pursuit of our values, not at their expense.

The same applies to our men and women in uniform. Enlistment rationally values the nation’s security and individual liberties above mere safety. That is what makes it so honorable! That is why we stand in awe of our veterans and offer them our thanks, because the choice to protect what the rest of us take for granted declares something of their character. It tells us what they value, and how much they value it. I imagine few if any enlist hoping to lose life or limb as a “sacrifice.” Rather, they accept the risk to life and limb as an affirmation of that which they value — life in a free country. As the beneficiaries of that choice, we ought not diminish it by calling it a sacrifice.

Walter Hudson advocates for individual rights, serving on the boards of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota, Minnesota Majority and the Minority Liberty Alliance. He maintains a blog and daily podcast entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of conservative Minnesotan commentary, and regularly appears on the Twin Cities News Talk Weekend Roundtable on KTCN AM 1130. Follow his work via Twitter and Facebook.

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All Comments   (20)
All Comments   (20)
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Because while it's a values judgement to give something for your kids, it is sacrifice to give up something of higher value to YOU for a universal good or the good of someone else (like your kids).

If it's a sacrifice, it can only mean that you don't really care about your kids as much as whatever else you could do with your time/money.

The good of someone else can be of **supreme** value to ME. I nuked my entire life savings for the "universal good" of my wife, helping her fight ovarian cancer. She's still here.

I would appreciate you not implying that I could care less for my wife by saying that what I did was a "sacrifice". It was not. It was a selfish trade-off, and one I do not regret.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
There is a real error here with the definition of sacrifice. Sacrifice does not and never meant "we lost" or "we came out behind on the deal." It is the deliberate loss of something you would rather not lose, in order to achieve something else.
A baseball manager sets up a sacrifice, accepts an out for a run scored- he's ahead, of course, but he'd rather have the run WITHOUT giving up the out. The Polynesian shaman would rather have a happy volcano god WITHOUT tossing the virgin in, and the nation would rather have peace and freedom WITHOUT the loss of our best and bravest.

But the world doesn't work that way. We have to take the loss. That's what we call a sacrifice. Appreciating the gain does not diminish the fact that something is lost.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
No. That's not a sacrifice (outside of baseball terminology), that's a trade-off. The baseball manager is trading away one out for a run scored because the run is worth more to him. It's still a selfish gain for him, on net.

Similarly, when you spend $20 for a good meal at a restaurant, it's a trade, not a "sacrifice". That's what markets and capitalism are made of - free trade, not "free sacrifice". This remains true even though we'd all rather get that meal WITHOUT giving up the $20.

If the baseball manager were instead to sacrifice a run scored out of some misguided sense of moral duty to the other team, *that* would be a sacrifice.

If someone is helping you out because they genuinely care, it's because your welfare is worth more to them than the time/effort they spent. Trade-off. If they didn't care about you at all, but help you out of a sense of duty - because they thought they "had to" rather than wanted to - *that's* a sacrifice.

By calling the soldier's death a "sacrifice", we imply that the soldier didn't really give a damn about his country, but blew himself up from "duty" because he "had to", not because he wanted to.

The truth is borne out in the common saying "It should *hurt* to give"; what that means literally, is that the pain to the giver is morally more important than the benefit to the recipient. That's "sacrifice".

It is crucially important to grasp this difference between sacrifice and trade-off, because that is the distinction between the morality of tradeoffs - also called "the trader principle" -- and the morality of sacrifice, of pain-for-its-own-sake.

"Sacrifice", properly understood, specifically and explicitly means to deliberately *lose* on net.

Most people consider that latter notion so monstrous that they can't accept that it really exists. That's why they insist that "sacrifice" is actually a trade-off. I mean, what monster would seriously tell you that morality consists in sacrifice - in acting directly against one's own values and interests at all times and in all respects?

Oh. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Kant

To be beneficent when we can is a duty; and besides this, there are many minds so sympathetically constituted that, without any other motive of vanity or self-interest, they find a pleasure in spreading joy around them, and can take delight in the satisfaction of others so far as it is their own work. But I maintain that in such a case an action of this kind, however proper, however amiable it may be, has nevertheless no true moral worth, but is on a level with other inclinations. … For the maxim lacks the moral import, namely, that such actions be done from duty, not from inclination.

Put the case that the mind of that philanthropist were clouded by sorrow of his own extinguishing all sympathy with the lot of others, and that while he still has the power to benefit others in distress, he is not touched by their trouble because he is absorbed with his own; and now suppose that he tears himself out of this dead insensibility, and performs the action without any inclination to it, but simply from duty, then first has his action its genuine moral worth.“


--Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals (1785)


Fortunately, most people do not seriously try to practice this, because it cannot be practiced - unless you like dying.

It's long past time to put a stop to this nonsense.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
In peace time, the life of a citizen who chooses a carreer in one of the branches of the military can best be sumarized by "It was real, it was fun, it just wasn't real fun."

And then the shooting starts. Perhaps the language has become so debased that the word sacrifice has become some cheapened thing in current useage, but how else can you describe what the men of the 77th Inf Divsion, 308th Infantry were willing to do bewtween October 2nd and October 8th, 1918 in the Meuse-Argonne, where 554 went in and 194 came out (including my grandfather). What do you say to the more than 320,000 killed and ounded in WWI, or the more than 1 million casualties in WWII, or the 128,000 of the Korean War, the 211,000 taken in Viet Nam, or the nearly 60,000 in the Middle East wars since 2001?

What other term would you use to describe what men do who are asked to spend their lives on behalf of the rest of us?
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Heroism.

35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
You DARE to discount PRESIDENT OBAMA'S service to Our country?
Welcome aboard, Sir, and "AT EASE".
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was a Marine infantryman. I did not make a sacrifice. It would have been a sacrifice to ignore my desire to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Also, I did not contribute to something "greater than myself." The values I was willing to fight for were my own values, embodied and codified in the founding documents. Thus those principles are equal to my own, and their defense was (and is) worth my life in trade.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
I couldn't wait to enlist; My parents wouldn't let me enlist early. So, I had to wait 'til I was of legal age.
I also volunteered for Viet Nam. Got "red lined" because I declined to enlist a second term. "They" had their chance for my ultimate sacrifice.
At that time, I didn't hear that much about "sacrifice". I actually volunteered for "sacrifice", as well as many, many others. Soldiers coming back from the front with Medals of Honor, and Purple Hearts never envisioned their depth of "sacrifice".
It wasn't considered "SACRIFICE" by myself, or most others.
It was a right of passage, and a validation of adulthood and independence, which We were honored by being chosen to participate and considered "soldiers" who had attained an exceptionally high level of prowess.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank you for pursuing your values, to the benefit of us all.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're welcome.

Amazing how that works, isn't it? Ties in to the "trader" thing: Go into it voluntarily, make your best (self-interested) transaction, as does the other guy , and everybody departs happier than before even though that wasn't the specific intention.

This subject is broader than that: For the opportunity to live a rational life as any human being ought, I willingly take a mortal risk to keep that notion alive. And by extension, to give everyone else that opportunity. But it's the same basic idea. I love it.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
So when a person dies to saves others, we shouldn't call it a sacrifice, because of this small definition.

But no matter what.

To those that served I thank you and salute you for your service to God and country, for making me feel safe at night knowing that you had my back covered, in some of the most horrendous situations.

And to the families of those that served, thank you for the love and understanding you gave to make your loved ones feel and know that what they were doing was worth the price paid.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
A values transaction definition for sacrifice is incoherent. Sacrifice is the giving of something precious towards an end that can neither be estimated nor described. It is an act of Faith and Love and by definition it is a religious act, and the only recipient or end worthy of it is either G_d, or a proxy of G_d.....

Saying that, there's only a couple of instances of wars the U.S.A. were involved in where she can properly be said to serve as a proxy of G_d and where lives lost is such conflict could be claimed as sacrificed. Most of the rest were struggles and disputes in the process of happening, and needing settling, might as well be settled in the best interests of the American nation and her allies - so yes; peace, prosperity and justice were rightly served and blood and treasure spent in such pursuit certainly meets the objective standard of serving a greater value over a lesser one.....

My beef? Sacrifice is not a pejorative, it simply isn't the correct term for the functions of the armed forces that Walter properly describes. My pitch for controversy? Most of the armed conflicts this nation has been in have been elevated to the level of a canonical event, or at least a mild epiphany. Only one event IMO honestly qualifies, the Civil War. Otherwise, not even the Revolutionary War, not WWII...... nope.......'>..........
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
To call it a sacrifice is to state it was objectively not worth doing. Is that really the honor we intend?
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
That's not true at all. To call it a sacrifice is to acknowledge that for the gain, there was some loss. It was not freely obtained, but dear bought.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
No. It was a trade-off, a purchase.

Those terms might not have the moral gravitas of "sacrifice", but that says more about the moral problems of a culture which places its moral gravitas in self-abnegation for its own sake, than it does for the trader principle.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well; It works for Islam.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Compared to the comforts and rythmes of civilian living, soldiering is indeed a sacrifice in comparison. Exercising certain civil liberties enjoyed by citizens to include the basest anti-American cynic and even incarcerated criminals, is simply not allowed in the military. That's one sacrifice. The family often comes second, sometimes third, to the Chain of Command. You sacrifice your kids social stability with frequent mandatory transfers.

That soldiers embrace it and even love it doesn't not disprove the sacrifice given. Love motivates the mom to protect her baby with her very life and we can recognize that sacrifice easily. Every day serving, you write a check to every American saying "Up to and including my last drawn breath in a hail of gunfire. All of my tomorrows are given to all of you." until you complete the term of service.

That is the very definition of sacrifice.

I do take your essay in the spirit given though and I wish you a good Veterans Day.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nice comment, sir.
I salute you.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
I just say "thank you for your service" & they always understand my meaning.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think your definition of "sacrifice" needs a small caveat. In your example of a parent it could hold true. Because while it's a values judgement to give something for your kids, it is sacrifice to give up something of higher value to YOU for a universal good or the good of someone else (like your kids). Therefore many soldiers do sacrifice limbs and lives in defense of the country. Most have no regret due to their values, but it is still a sacrifice of something of high value to them personally. This is why we have Memorial Day.

But I agree that soldiering in and of itself is not a sacrifice, and I don't think it should be. It is a vocation for some and a step on the way to elsewhere for many others. We have professional soldiers making a career, not conscripted street rats who couldn't run fast enough. Their service builds value for themselves. Soldiers take RISK, but I agree that enlistment itself is not sacrifice. The time they spend soldiering is building their value in the job market and society, not a delay of the rest of their life for the good of everyone else.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
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