I don’t remember exactly when it was that I saw the quote on a random AFN filler between terrible shows, but I was mildly tipsy and watching the Government-Property television in my dorm’s dayroom while on my first overseas tour in Japan. They had one of these series of 30-second spots between PSA’s where they would drop a quote from someone famous, and I happened to see this one by Johann Wolfgang Goethe (yes, THAT Goethe):
“What, then, is your duty? What the day demands!”
Now, I’d been a philosophy enthusiast since taking an ethics course in community college just prior to enlisting. This was something akin to red meat for your garden-variety Stoic, and I could see the obvious angle that would make one of the wizards at AFN pick this for use to the military community at large. After all, we’re a subculture that orbits around the binary star system of “Duty” and “Sacrifice.” These two words can blind, burn, sear and scar an individual in the blink of an eye; the military stares at them every day and holds on with both hands because the labor must fall to someone. This quote became a personal exhortation over the last decade every time I came across a situation or challenge that brought the tremors and cold sweat to my hands. It reminded me that things need doing, no matter how tough, and not only had I volunteered to do them when I raised my hand for The Oath, but (even more unnerving) other people expected things to get done. And those who knew me personally looked directly to me to rise to occasion.
It’s fitting that the mind that created the character Dr. Faust would also be the author of this quote. The lesson of Faust after all, is that pursuit of power, in whatever form one defines it, for personal gain alone will lead ultimately to an untimely fate. Veterans from years of service past, those newly-discharged and those just now finishing training and entering “The REAL Army/Navy/Marine Corps/Coast Guard/Air Force” will be constantly reminded of duty. The flipside of that coin is sacrifice; there will be times in every person’s life when the obligations they hold will be called to account, and the individual will then be required to sacrifice according to the magnitude of a particular duty.
Some are asked to sacrifice everything. All are asked to sacrifice a minimum of personal freedoms and precious, precious time.
It makes me look at a lot of things very differently than many of my peers on campus, and even among the brothers & sisters I know who wear a uniform with their family name and our national family’s names on it. A sense of duty is not something that is routinely encountered anymore in American life, and that is one of the things that sets it apart and makes people take a pause when they come across it.
What is demanded of you today?