On Nov. 18, The Virginia Informer published a column, “Ignorance and Arrogance on Display in Attacks on Veterans Day Celebration,” in which the author’s sentiment caused me to feel no small amount of trouble in my heart.
Let me first say that I truly believe that the Informer is a great newspaper; I write for it often. Thus, this column is by no means an attack on the paper or its staff, nor is it an attack on the author, Lance Zaal ’09. I have every reason to believe that he is an upright and honorable man. I sincerely thank him for his service to our country and encourage all students to do the same.
Yet, Zaal’s comment gave me great pause: “Those who have not served, experienced combat or, at the very least, earned the right to wear the uniform, have no place to lecture about honor to those who have.” As I read this it caused me to think about the nature of honor and public speech in our society. Being a confirmed right-winger, I felt it my duty to cry havoc on this sentiment that the only honor available is martial honor.
There is great honor in serving your country bravely and with distinction, but there is also honor in other things. Being a good parent, neighbor or sibling has its honor. Volunteering for the Peace Corps or at a local soup kitchen is honorable. Even just being a good citizen who obeys the laws and stands up for his or her beliefs has its honor, too.
To say that the only source of honor comes from fighting discredits the work of so many good people who give their lives to help others off the battlefield — people who have a right to lecture on honor. It is indeed a frightening sentiment expressed by Zaal.
Secondly, the notion that people need a right to lecture or write on their feelings is blatantly against the very foundations of this noble republic. The simple fact that we are American citizens gives us a right to make our opinions heard, and we should never be silenced by either side, left or right. Free and open conversation is the lifeblood of a healthy republic.
The idea that all non-military people should shut their mouths and fall in line behind those in uniform is a toxic notion. I feel that it is necessary to remind readers that if this idea were always followed, then the United States never would have been born — writers like John Adams and Thomas Paine would have never picked up their pens and ignited a nation’s soul. These men had no combat experience at the time, and many of them never would, but surely their opinions expressed in print were and still are valid.
The great philosopher Voltaire once said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” This must be our maxim in political discussions, or else all is lost. The right to lecture and openly discuss the merits of ideas such as justice, truth and honor must be held sacrosanct by we students at the College of William and Mary, regardless of political affiliation or how much we think we are right.
We must remember and hold it in our heart that our true enemies are not those with whom we disagree, but rather those who will allow no disagreement.
Alexander Powell is a junior at the College.