Relaymedia

Quiet Heroism and the Culture that Produces It

Nov 12, 2002 03:00 AM EST

When I was in the White House, I came to appreciate people we called "middle Americans." This group wasn't defined by geography. Instead, its characteristics were shared-values like faith, family, and the importance of hard work. President Nixon never tired of expressing his admiration for the ordinary working Americans who strove to make a better life for their families.

And that's not all that these people have done. As we have learned in these past two months, these are the people who hold our civilization together. They are the ones who make the sacrifices necessary to preserve our way of life.

Veterans Day is the time we set aside to honor those who serve our country in the armed forces. America has rediscovered the men and women of the armed forces. As Newsweek writes, after years of neglect and scorn, the ROTC is "cool" on many American campuses. Athletes and actors have dedicated their performances to the troops in Central Asia.

But these aren't the only people in uniform that we should honor this Veterans Day. The events of September 11 remind us that firemen and policemen are just as indispensable as the armed forces. The gallantry of those firemen running into the World Trade Center can be compared to that of soldiers running into battle. That's why people are wearing hats that read "FDNY" and "NYPD."

Our firemen and policemen have something in common with our soldiers and sailors besides valor. They are products of the same group. The armed forces, like our police and fire departments, are disproportionately composed of the middle Americans I described earlier.

They are not the children of our elites. They come from working families. They come from all parts of the country: Irish Catholic kids from New York, black and white kids from the South, Hispanic kids from the Southwest.

What they have in common is a set of values—values that increasingly distinguish them from the broader culture, especially our elites. They tend to be more conservative and place higher esteem on virtues like duty, honor, and sacrifice. As a study done by the Triangle Institute for Security Studies found, military officers "tend to take a negative view of civilian society" and view it as being "in moral crisis." Similar attitudes can be found among police and firemen, who have a higher standard of belief in the virtues of this country.

This makes the new esteem for these people among our elites ironic. It's precisely the cultural attitudes of middle America that earned them the scorn of our elites. Now, our elites are learning, it's the people they disdained who hold our country together. If the elites are intellectually honest, they must acknowledge that it's the values they labeled as "retrograde" that safeguard their way of life.

There's a lesson here for Christians about what I call "Christian patriotism." As C. S. Lewis wrote, we can't love the whole world. But we should remember that God has placed us in a particular community at a particular time. And we're called to love those around us. Loving them means serving them and being the best of citizens. So this Veterans Day, let us pledge to be patriots in the true sense, and let us be grateful as well, not just for the sacrifice of these men and women in uniform, but also for the culture that produces them.

By Charles Colson