And yet be determined

D-Day troops suffered ten times more casualties than their enemies, but they managed to turn the tide of the war. National World War II Memorial, Washington, DC, March 2005.

D-Day troops suffered ten times more casualties than their enemies,
but nonetheless managed to turn the tide of the war.
National World War II Memorial, Washington, DC, March 2005.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

For most of us, life is full of ethical conundrums; questions and dilemmas to which there are no easy answers.  Nowhere is this more evident than in warfare.  It seems counter-intuitive that war can bring about peace; that the taking of some human lives is necessary to prevent the deaths of many more. To the soldier, these questions become almost unbearably consequential.  How does one balance the duties to home, family and friends against the duty to serve one’s country even to the point of death?

Regardless of how any of us resolves such dilemmas for ourselves, I think Fitzgerald has a point when he says that we must retain the ability to function in the face of them.  Daily we are bombarded with dismal stories of tragedy and trouble all over the world, yet we are also surrounded with the lights of hope, faith and love that shine in countless people we know personally, or only learned about from other sources.

It’s easy, and almost inevitable, to feel hopeless at times.  But even in such situations, we still can refuse to give up.  People have been accomplishing seemingly impossible things for centuries by holding fast to courage and faith when logic defies the efficacy of either.

When two opposing ideas are battling it out in my mind, I often find that I do better to ignore the argument and go about taking whatever positive steps I can, doing what I know to be right without becoming distracted by useless agitation.  Difficult questions abound, but they need not obscure the more obvious daily decisions I am capable of making regardless of larger issues over which I have no control.

Today, whatever problems and difficulties may arise, I hope we will retain the ability to function despite the external circumstances.  We know we can do it, because we do it every day, despite the times when we feel that we cannot keep going.  Even when it appears hopeless, we can almost always find reason for hope.

One year ago today:

We must free ourselves


  1. Larry

    We are seeing our soldiers being laid to rest from WWII with a gratitude being seen for their service. The stories that we have heard of selfless acts by them have made us all to be even more thankful. I just this past week learned of a soldier who drove thru German lines with a jeep load of ammo and explosives for his division. Somehow he was not wounded and his selfless determination was successful in helping the US efforts. He never spoke of his actions and it wasn’t till his funeral that some of his fellow soldiers spoke of his heroic effort. We need to always be thankful for every soldier and what he does everyday that makes a difference in our keeping that freedom which many take for granted

    • Larry, that is so true. Many of that generation are now passing on and I wonder whether there will be others with their stamina and determination to take their places. I think Tom Brokaw was not exaggerating when he called them “the greatest generation.” The bravery of the soldiers who landed on D-Day is amazing. Until I saw Saving Private Ryan I had never really imagined what it must have been like for them.

  2. raynard

    Julia I forgot who said it but i’m not one to watch war movies for entertainment. Never did I watch Band of Brothers or Saving PVT Ryan.( my sister was a big fan of Goldy Hawn in Pvt Benjamin and though Army life was like that.. I didnt get caught up in politics when I was being sent to Iraq. I signed my named on the dotted line and kept my word. Funny but these days when you try to share wisdom and experience with younger people,” if it’s not a Twitter, Facebook Feed or Text message, they will dismiss you ” like school on a Saturday”.. 30 second sound bites ” get forgotten about really quick .quess we are the only ones who still go to the library to read and download books right? be blessed

    • Raynard, I have not seen Band of Brothers, but Saving Private Ryan is a movie I think all Americans should watch. It is difficult to see but it really brings home the idea of what was sacrificed by so many people. It’s funny but my experience with military people is that very few of them get active in politics while they are on active duty. As you say, they sign their names and keep their word. As for whether we are the only ones who go to the library, NO, there are still quite a few, we just don’t hear about them. But if you hang around the public library sometimes when school is out you will see them. I know many people of my age who are on Facebook just so they can keep up with their grandchildren – and now I do the same thing! But I have loved having videos of Grady to watch, since we rarely get to see him. So I guess it’s not all bad. 😀

  3. singleseatfighterpilot

    Sheila may only call this an “Eric-ism”, but it is true (Julia may learn the details that make it so, later):
    I feel more like I do now, than I ever have!

    • Eric, I had that kind of day myself today. Sometimes I think home maintenance is almost as stressful as hospital stays. Almost.

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        You, among all people, are qualified to say “almost”.

        • Of course, I’m not speaking from the standpoint of the patient. Big difference, I’m sure, from his or her point of view!

  4. Once again, your excellent writing skills abound. The content, in and of itself, is moving, but your writing ability takes the piece to a higher level. That’s what brings me back again and again. Thank you!

    • Wow, Barb, thank you for that tremendous compliment! I never know when I am writing whether or not I am saying what I mean to say, if that makes sense. I really appreciate your encouragement. As I have said before, I would not even be here blogging if not for your help and example.

  5. Julia, please don’t think that I’m a dinosaur but I really am so delighted that cloth dish towels gave way to PAPER TOWELS. I’ve used a million and counting! Bill would most likely say,’Velcro”, as he uses it professionally every day for both prosthetics and orthotics. 🙂 Life is good but so fast right now.

    • Sheila, I grew up in a house where using paper towels was thought to constitute major waste (Eric can back me up on this) so it has taken me awhile to “graduate” to the idea of paper towels. I do use them far more freely than we did when I was a kid, but still keep a cloth towel handy as well. I agree with Bill that Velcro is very useful! It took Matt a long time to learn to tie his shoes, but he still prefers the velcro type, and I am getting so annoyed with my own shoelaces coming untied that I can see why he does! YES life is good AND fast…maybe it seems fast partly because it is good?

    • singleseatfighterpilot

      Sheila, tell Bill I LOVE Velcro (and I never use it professionally). In fact, paper towels may be the only everyday thing I like more than Velcro! Oh, and ask any of my grandkids – BLUE TAPE!

      • Eric, we have spools (yards) of Velcro in every color, width, hook, pile, adhesive, you name it. Never want for Velcro, my friend! 🙂

  6. Julia, I must be a dinosaur because this comment ended up on this blog instead of yesterday’s. “Beam me back, Scotty!”

    • Sheila, I wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out, because I see these comments in a separate window, and if I want the context, I have to look it up. So Scotty will have to beam both of us back.

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        Julia, it’s like the answer to “The Profit”: Oh, well I wanted to know about “freight” as well as “fate” 🙂

  7. Keep on keeping on. You’re right, Julia. Conflicting issues or views will always be with us so long as we possess a free will. Yet sooner or later the truth will out. When it does, those who follow that path of truth will be content, even if they must travel it alone.

    On the topic of war; G.K. Chesterton says: War is fought for one of two reasons; lust(by those who want what another has) or love(in defense of what one has). Defensive reasons constitute a just war. Also he says: “A soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but rather because he loves what is behind him.”

    • Alan, those are good quotes. It’s helpful to differentiate between aggression versus defense, though even there the lines are often blurred. Conflict is definitely here to stay; our choice lies how we handle it. I take great comfort in believing that “sooner or later the truth will out.”

  8. I definitely hear and feel your conundrum, Julia. Such opposing concepts within oneself is plaguing. Being the amateur WWII historian I am coupled with having friends, relatives and neighbors having to go to war – with some not coming back or enduring nightmares for the rest of their lives – I have accepted the need to war. Unfortunately, with the way things are going here, I am very, very worried that if the need for all out war arises, patriotism may have given way to political correctness meaning fewer will hear the country’s calling.

    • Thanks so much for your comment here. I agree with you totally. War has become a political football which it never should have been. If history teaches us anything, in my opinion, it teaches us two things about war: 1. It really is hell; and 2. It is, unfortunately, sometimes inescapable due to the aggression of those who would oppress and conquer. I am thankful that there have always been those who have the courage to act against oppression despite very real fears of mistakes, miscalculations, and the criticism that inevitably follows. I do not envy our current President, nor anyone who has ever had such gargantuan burdens of responsibility. The Bible is wise in advising us to pray for ALL world leaders.

  9. bobmielke

    If you look at our last couple of wars in the United States we really didn’t have a real enemy or cause to kill anyone. In the Vietnam War as soldiers we were told we were stemming the red tide of communism by being there. Ask the rice paddy farmer if his life got better by America being there. Who won that war by the way?

    Next we were hunting for “weapons of mass destruction”. Did we find any? In both cases we spent billions of taxpayer dollars and killed thousands of our youngest generation adults. What have we accomplished with either war? Can somebody please answer that question for me? Now here we go again against ISIS, stopping that menacing terror group from spreading their message of hate and religion. “No boots on the ground”, watch my lips! We’ll see! 😦

    • Bob, I know that many Americans and people all over the world share your frustrations. Nonetheless, hindsight is always 20/20, or seemingly so. The crucial missing data that we never have in any situation is: what would have happened had we acted differently, or not acted at all? I firmly believe there are no “winners” in any war, only (sometimes) the cessation of aggression and atrocities, the termination of which can only be made possible through brutally hard experience. But wars are too often oversimplified in the sound bites of self-serving politicians who seek to use the inevitable mistakes and ambiguities as a handy target for criticism of opponents. George W. Bush has been (unfairly, in my opinion) blamed for the entire Iraq situation when in reality it was Bill Clinton who first sounded the warnings against the imminent danger of Iraq’s use of WMD. Read his own statement here, as issued by him in December 1998. Unfortunately, due to his own personal failures and misbehavior, most of the country dismissed it as his attempt to distract the news media from coverage of his adultery. I say all this not to get political — it’s something I strongly wish to avoid here — but to point out that our collective memory tends to be very short about such things in hindsight. I think every American would do well to read Geroge Tenet’s book At the Center of the Storm. Whatever else can be said of the book — and there has been much criticism of it — it does do a good job of pointing out more than most of us would ever want to know about the dangers of our world, and the complexity of decisions made with regard to our actions or inactions. Suffice it to say that I would not want to be in the shoes of anyone making such decisions.

  10. Carlyle

    I am reminded of a line of dialog in the movie version of “Gone With the Wind”

    Rhet Butler tells Scarlet that he is going to join in the battle for Atlanta explaining that he had held off until the cause was truly lost.

    • Daddy, I had forgotten about that, but I looked it up in the book. Rhett insists he is finally going to join, which Scarlett says is crazy. He muses about how his “eleventh-hour” arrival will cheer the troops who have already lost. Scarlett is furious with him for deserting the women at such a time, and he said “I pity any Yankee that gets hold of you.” In which she proved him right later in the movie, when she shot that Yankee off the staircase.

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