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Never was so much owed by so many to so few

The oft-quoted aphorism by Winston Churchill was in reference to the RAF’s heroic stand against fascism. And yet, this phrase is equally attributable to those few who fight today’s wars, such as Navy SEAL Eric Greitens.

What’s the Big Idea?

“Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” In this statement Winston Churchill was paying tribute to the vastly outnumbered RAF, who destroyed the combat effectiveness of the Nazi Luftwaffe in an extremely close-run battle in the skies over England and essentially saved Great Britain from the threat of a fascist invasion. Like so many of Churchill’s oft-quoted aphorisms, this line may well be applied to those few who wage America’s wars today, which, as former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens points out in his Big Think interview, are far out of sight and out of mind from the general public.

Many servicemen and women are clustered around military bases with their families, so the full impact of their sacrifices is not felt or observed by the American public–as opposed to a conflict such as the American Civil War, in which few families were able to escape the impact of a conflict that claimed an astonishing number of casualties relative to the population at the time.

Greitens, a Rhodes Scholar who passed on financial rewards and a comfortable lifestyle in order to enlist with the Navy following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, adopted what can only be described as a distinctly American credo that he lays out in detail in his book “The Heart and the Fist.”

In an era that will likely be better remembered for stories of personal gain rather than collective sacrifice–so antithetical to what was required of the World War II generation, Greitens is an anomaly.

What’s the Significance?

As America and all of Europe pays tribute to the grave sacrifices made by U.S. servicemen on the beaches of Normady on D-Day, June 6, 1944, we find that it is, after all, much easier to pay tribute and much harder to find a path to honor the deeds of the fallen, through our own course of action.

Eric Greitens, who founded “The Mission Continues,” tells Big Think that not everyone needs to be a Navy SEAL in order to honor their country. Greitens founded a charity for disabled veterans upon his return from combat duties. He tells Big Think that the call to serve our communities is a challenge that we must ask of our veterans, who, after all, gained valuable skills that are easily transferable to the home front. After all, as Greitens learned in his service abroad, America’s power is not only expressed in terms of the raw force of the fist, but is equally potent in the ability to use the power of its democratic/humanitarian ideals to help defend the defenseless at home and abroad.


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