In the ancient world, as we know from reading about the exploits of heroes like Achilles in the Iliad, the path to wartime glory was littered with the bodies of one’s slain enemies. The most honored warrior was the fiercest killer. Though the weapons of war have changed over the ensuing millennia, the need for martial prowess to defend one’s country and way of life has not. And the U.S. military is arguably as accomplished as it or any military has ever been in dealing harm to the nation’s enemies.
But something has changed rather decisively over the past half century. Today more than ever, glory in war comes not from fiercely slaying the enemy on the battlefield, but from saving the lives of others, usually one’s comrades in arms. At least this is the conclusion to be drawn from the history of the nation’s highest military decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor.