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Fallen soldiers and the cost of freedom

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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The remains of 30 U.S. troops came home from Afghanistan yesterday. As you know, they were killed last Saturday morning when their helicopter was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. It was the single deadliest loss of life for U.S. forces in the longest war our nation has ever fought.

Their remains landed at Dover Air Force Base, where they were honored by President Obama and their families. Eight of the American troops were members of the Army and the Air Force; the other 22 were Navy SEALs. Most of these were part of SEAL Team 6, the counterterrorism unit that carried out the mission to find Osama bin Laden. (None of the commandoes, however, were involved in the operation which killed the al-Qaeda leader.) They were on a nighttime mission to kill or capture two high-level insurgents when their Chinook helicopter was attacked by Taliban forces. Now they have joined 1,678 other American service members who have died as part of the Afghan war and related operations.

Rudyard Kipling claimed in 1899, “All we have of freedom, all we use or know—this our fathers bought for us long and long ago.” I disagree. Earlier generations who purchased and protected our liberty deserve our deepest gratitude, but those who died for us last Saturday reminded us of this crucial fact: freedom comes at the cost of courage.

Thucydides, the great Greek historian (died 395 B.C.) observed, “The secret of happiness is freedom. And the secret of freedom is courage.” Israeli prime minister and war veteran Benjamin Netanyahu once quoted the Roman saying: “Courage is not the only virtue, but it’s the only one that makes the other virtues possible.”

The courage of our fallen heroes makes possible the freedom they defended with their lives. General MacArthur was right: “The soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind.” Now you and I are called to follow their example in serving our King and our country. Scripture calls us to “be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).

Where do we find the courage we need for the challenges we face today? David, one of the most courageous warriors in history, knew the answer: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” (Psalm 56:3-4).

As our nation grieves our fallen heroes, perhaps words from an earlier war will help. On October 21, 1940, Winston Churchill broadcast a speech to occupied France. Toward its end he stated, “Good night, then—sleep to gather strength for the morning. For the morning will come. Brightly will it shine on the brave and true, kindly on all who suffer for the cause, glorious upon the tombs of heroes. Thus will shine the dawn.”