Alex Epstein, in a just released ARI op-ed makes the following important points in time for Memorial Day:
Soldiers are not sacrificial objects; they are full-fledged Americans with the same moral right as the rest of us to the pursuit of their own goals, their own dreams, their own happiness. Rational soldiers enjoy much of the work of military service, take pride in their ability to do it superlatively, and gain profound satisfaction in protecting the freedom of every American, including their own freedom.
Soldiers know that in entering the military, they are risking their lives in the event of war. But this risk is not, as it is often described, a "sacrifice" for a "higher cause." When there is a true threat to America, it is a threat to all of our lives and loved ones, soldiers included. Many become soldiers for precisely this reason; it was, for instance, the realization of the threat of Islamic terrorism after September 11--when 3,000 innocent Americans were slaughtered in cold blood on a random Tuesday morning--that prompted so many to join the military.
For an American soldier, to fight for freedom is not to fight for a "higher cause," separate from or superior to his own life--it is to fight for his own life and happiness. He is willing to risk his life in time of war because he is unwilling to live as anything other than a free man. He does not want or expect to die, but he would rather die than live in slavery or perpetual fear. His attitude is epitomized by the words of John Stark, New Hampshire’s most famous soldier in the Revolutionary War: "Live free or die."
It very frustrating to constantly hear sacrifice associated with soldiers as if that was the nature of their virtue. I think their virtue rather lies in the exceptional integrity and courage of their refusal to live in fear or as a slave. Read the entire excellent op-ed.