Joseph Cramer, M.D.: We don't need a war to prove our bravery

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 14 2012 2:04 p.m. MDT

Have you ever had a "rooster crowing moment"? There are times when one is put to a test, a big one, and then fails.

For the last 11 years, the people of America have been engaged in combat. We have been at war as a nation longer than any other time in our history. However, this war is different than any of the others in modern times. We have outsourced our collective defense to corporations and our all-volunteer armed forces.

Free men and women have always stepped forward to put their lives on the line at liberty's call. This time, no one has to risk anything if they don’t want to.

So to say our nation or the people of America is in harm’s way is not totally true. Only part of the nation and only some of the citizens are doing our fighting for the rest of us.

Vietnam was the last “police action” where the gaps in the ranks were filled with draftees. It was not a welcome instrument of recruitment. Some guys burned their draft cards, went into hiding or fled the country.

I was not a draft dodger nor did I enlist. Still I was ready to serve and if my selective service number had been chosen I would have gone honorably. It was never called. The draft board never got to 332.

That didn’t mean I didn’t care. Every night on all three TV channels there were reports of the Viet Cong. Hue, Saigon, Mekong were as familiar as Chicago, Las Vegas and the Mississippi.

There were images of Marines penetrating impenetrable jungles, infantry slugging through calf-deep mud and waters of rice patties, and there was the ever-present whirling sounds of Huey helicopters.

Now 40-plus years later, as one who has a larger emotional rear-view mirror than is healthy, I look back to wonder what kind of soldier would have I been. Would I have been brave, or would I have shrunk in the face of fear? Would I kill with hesitancy and deep personal repugnance, or would I have mechanically performed my duty? In time of deep moral crisis, would I have done what was right? Real soldiers don’t have to ask the questions; they know.

Then there flashed before me the rooster crowing. We don’t need a shooting war to test our mettle. There are plenty of other moments in our lives when our values are tempted. As if we were in a firefight, is our courage prepared for loneliness? When our captain calls to put forth maximal effort, do we shout, yes? What about bravery battling doubt? Then would we risk our lives to save a buddy? Now do we save with service? What size of figurative grenade are we willing to fall on to protect our families? Are our efforts as parents worthy of any medal, particularly a medal of honor?

When one is struck with the blast of his betrayal of principles, the agony is almost too great to bear. In the New Testament, a disciple denied knowledge of his master before the cock crowed thrice. "And he went out, and wept bitterly."

There were two betrayals that night: one for 30 pieces of silver, the other betrayal was made three times. We can literally or figuratively hang ourselves, or we can get up from the fire and change.

We all make mistakes. However, only some are low enough to be at the level of prompting the crow of the cock. Still the message is clear. We can be forgiven. We can gracefully right the wrong. We can and should move forward and quit looking in our hypertrophied, emotional rear-view mirrors.

Many can never know if they would be courageous in battle. We can nevertheless exercise strength today. We can be brave. We can be strong. We don’t have to listen for the cock.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for 30 years and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at jgcramermd@yahoo.com.

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