Perhaps counterintuitively, only those possessed of a great love of home will be motivated to go out in the world to keep their home safe from external threats. The place and people a hero leaves is one of peace and comfort, and the perceived threat must be grave enough that they could imagine a different reality where that security is threatened. It takes a lot to draw humans out of comfort, objects at rest tend to stay at rest. Of course, there is the “warmonger”, who has no urgency to get home, loving the fight for its own sake, but these are few and far between. The majority of soldiers have no wish for a fight, desiring only a safe return to home and hearth, a theme demonstrated by none better than Cincinnatus.

In the days of the early Roman Republic, Cincinnatus became known as a paragon of civic virtue when, during times of great danger, he was granted and then immediately relinquished vast emergency powers. When the first danger approached he was found at home, tending his fields, where he wanted to be. And, when the danger abated, there he returned.

George Washington, inspired by Cincinnatus, followed a similar pattern. A soldier, and a good one, Washington took up the cause of America’s freedom and allowed himself to be made president, but resigned after two terms, setting a precedent, retiring to Virginia and demonstrating that a peaceful transfer of power was possible in the early American republic. Both left the comfort of home for an even greater call, yet never lost sight of a return to where they belonged.

We have now passed the two-year mark of the war in Ukraine. When the invasion first began, most projected Kyiv would fall in four days; the city remains in Ukraine’s hands today. Now, the war has become a partisan issue to America, one that has demonstrated a disintegration in our politics. The American right has become inexplicably short-sighted on foreign policy with the ever-present threat of Russia while the left has done no better. Almost America’s entire political class has faltered, from hesitating to provide decisive aid at the beginning of the war, likely causing the war of attrition Ukraine faces today, to their inability to explain to the American people the long game of neutralizing Russia through helping our Ukrainian partners. 

But enough has been said about the United States’s wavering policies towards Ukraine. Two years ago, as story after story showed images of Ukrainian babushkas being trained with sniper rifles, a massive draw to the front lines for Ukrainian men determined to defend their country. Other inspiring images included women and children sent to Poland as refugees and Zelensky’s brave refusal to set up a government in exile, remaining in Kyiv. As with Washington and Cincinnatus, they knew that their home on a grander scale was being threatened. If Ukrainian men and women did not go to the front line to fight, there would be no blue and yellow flag to fly in the future, the fields would certainly never be harvested again. The Ukrainian people did not want to give up fathers, husbands, daughters, sons, or wives, yet if they did not, there would be no home worth returning to.

On October 7th, families in Israel resided safely in their homes, only to awaken to Hamas’s brutal rampage inflicting unspeakable horrors and violence. Many were pulled from their homes, barefoot, taken across the border into Gaza, and remain there still today being held by bloodthirsty terrorists. These homes witnessed horrors modern society didn’t think were possible and many still remain imprisoned, a symbol of the horror that day.  

I January I was in Israel and walked through the streets of a kibbutz that had seen the worst of that day. I stood in the field where fun-loving youths had been enjoying music and when they were brutally slaughtered. Israeli homes along the border of Gaza and the border of Lebanon have been evacuated, for fear of Hamas and Hezbollah, their people removed for their own safety, and they will remain empty until Israel has rightly rid Gaza of Hamas and pushed Hezbollah off their border. 

Israel had no desire for war, but will protect itself from future attacks like the one they endured. The soldiers and even former soldiers who reported for duty on October 7th did so not out of a desire for violence, but because they have a home worth protecting. Every human who has gone to fight in defense of their country longs to return home in peace and security. Israeli soldiers only arm themselves in the hope that they will be able to disarm.

Soldiers and sailors must engage in the deep weighing of comfort and security at home over a country and a cause bigger than themselves. Cinicinnatus steps away from his plough, George Washington endures Valley Forge, Ukrainians saw their children safely off to Poland before returning to the front lines, and Israeli soldiers camp in muddy fields up north. But in those moments of darkness, camped out, they all think about returning home. That is always the goal. The captain of the USS Eisenhower, which deployed barely a week after the October 7th attacks, announced to the crew “Our mission is to promote world peace, by deterring aggression and supporting our allies, and, when called upon, to deliver overwhelming firepower to defeat enemies.” Peace is the first goal.

The phrase “forever wars” is often used by those who think a strong US military presence around the globe is warmongering and that US presence risks escalation with Iran and Russia, but they’ve missed the broader point. Those who go off leaving their homes when threatened have in mind a bigger picture and a higher calling than just picking fights. We cannot pretend that shadows do not spread; after all, one projection of weakness by the United States in Afghanistan precipitated previously calm areas becoming war zones. The United States could withdraw inward, safe for the next few years, but the threat will only grow. 

Cincinnatus could have shaken his head in resignation and returned to tending his farm, and he would have had a few more days of peace and quiet, but he had the foresight to recognize that ignoring danger does not make it disappear. Ukrainians knew that if they all fled there would be no Ukraine to return to. Israel knows that if they do not prove to the world that they can counter terrorists and defend their borders, they will cease to be a country. Our service members today don’t long for months of deployment, but a projection of military strength is deterrence to those who would destroy peace. There is no delight in leaving home, only the delight in the thought of returning to it, knowing you have made it safer by having left it and fought for it. 

I cannot put it better than Faramir, a brave warrior in Tolkien’s classic tale, Lord of the Rings: “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”