Honor And Others

Never-Trumper Eliot Cohen’s op-ed from The Atlantic appeared in my news feed. Writing of honor:

There are two separable issues here: the decision to liquidate America’s Afghan commitment, about which reasonable and prudent people could, did, and do disagree; and the manner in which it was conceived, executed, presented, and defended. And in that latter respect, the American exit was profoundly dishonorable.

In the current case, honor demanded that we do everything possible to rescue Afghans who served alongside us, not just those who applied for Special Immigrant Visas, which are numerically limited and hedged with qualifications (e.g., being paid by the U.S. government rather than by contractors). By any measure, the United States failed to do all it could. Consider the Afghan contractor who went to rescue then–Senator Joseph Biden in a snowbound helicopter in 2008, and whose life is now in danger.

I think the problem is a bit wider than the author’s perspective as a military historian. Honor is not just for soldiers, their commanders, and their civilian overseers. Though I would say it weighs heavily on them. As it should, even stretching to civilian life as a veteran and exemplar of citizenry.

Honor is about more than doing good for those who do good to us, though there’s nothing at all wrong about repaying a debt. The rank-and-file American boogeyman–a Taliban fighter, an Asian communist, a domestic socialist–most of these folks will bend over backwards to feel and express gratitude for a favor rendered. It’s basic business gesture to reward friends at one’s own expense or even inconvenience, though a certain renowned businessman of recent high celebrity is reported to have shunned the practice.

Honor is about more than doing a heroic deed for a celebrity like a future president. Honor is sometimes caring more for one’s children than for one’s homeland and recognizing the greater good might be a trek of hundreds of miles across hostile territory. Dishonor is imprisonment at the end of such a journey.

If we’re going to talk about honor, we’d d*** well better extend it beyond soldiers, employees, celebrities, and people who look like us.

The problem is indeed in part Mr Biden’s blunders, whether inflicted by incompetence in his staff or indifference in ending a clumsy and ill-conceived military adventure. My feeling as a Christian and a non-military person is that there’s a need for a lot more honor among all people, especially my countrywomen and men. But I don’t see much of it in the loudest voices I hear these days. Talk about honor is fine. But let’s be ready to pony up for the demands it makes on us.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to Honor And Others

  1. Liam says:

    Honor can be a great value, but it can also be put in service of false ego needs. Honor needs to be tightly bound to a more foundational, fiduciary self-understanding, where we understand It Is Not About Us, But Those Who Need To Be Served (and not whether they *deserve* our service in our subjective judgment).

    Mind you, I had the great privilege of attending Mr Jefferson’s University, the culture of which was girded by an entirely student-administered Honor system. I can still remember the day when, during my first month a few decades ago, I had lost my wallet. The day following, I found it upon a table in the very large and open reading room in what might called a student union building in other universities. Everything was intact. I loved not only having examinations non-proctored, but the freedom to take examinations anywhere we wished (in fine days in the spring, my favorite spot was in a Jeffersonian garden on the central Grounds) and within a self-administered time frame (if required). (This experience was a revelation after years of experiencing highly-proctored New York State Regents’ examinations, among others. Law school that followed college also reverted to a culture marked by an almost ruthless lack of trust. I know which culture I thrive in, and which one I don’t.)

    I also participated in the other demands of of such a system: investigation and trial (students were all responsible for doing their share of such duties, because faculty were barred from so doing).

    In the end, I observed that Trust begets trust; I’ve never forgotten that, and how vital growing trust is to healthy social organisms, something I’ve endeavored to foster in my now-retired (because I decided I would not return to a culture of an almost ruthless lack of trust…) career. (Sadly, I cannot say church life is a field where I regularly encountered a virtuous cycle of growing trust.)

    Having been in a professional capacity in a fiduciary context (investment management), I remember conversations with investment manager/analyst colleagues about the role of trust and trustworthiness in organizational culture – and how important it could be for them (and, more importantly, our own clients) to delve deeply into the culture of trust/trustworthiness in businesses in which we invested client assets, and how that delving might best be done.

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