Every year around this time, I try to write a post dedicated to the theme of Remembrance Day, something of a hat-tip to the service men and women who are scattered over the Earth trying to protect the world from itself.
After all, everyone one of my books deals with warriors, the struggle of war, and the changes war wreaks upon the fighters, their families, and the world around them. Eagles and Dragons Publishing’s #1 best selling book in 2016, A Dragon among the Eagles, is dedicated to men and women in service (and I mean that with utmost sincerity), and every year I attend my local Remembrance Day ceremony and think of all those who have laid down, or are currently risking their lives for the rest of us.
I think of my two grandfathers who fought in the World Wars as part of the British Army and Greek Merchant Navy respectively, and of my cousin who lost her husband outside of Kandahar more recently.
But is this enough of a tribute?
I don’t think so.
Frankly, I feel like anything I do or say or write, no matter how sincere and heartfelt it is, is not enough to be of sufficient thanks.
And I’m not talking about honouring war or the politicians who send men and women to war for their own selfish ends. I’m not going to sully this post with talk of political motives.
The troops are not responsible for the wars that happened in the past, or that are happening as we speak.
Sadly, we’ve seen a whole new generation of veterans emerge, people younger than you or I. When I was young, the word veteran was relegated to grandparents wearing poppies, or stories from history.
Not so anymore.
And we’ve a seen a resurgence of anti-war, pro-soldier art in the form of books, music, illustration, poetry, film and more. So much that seeks to honour the sacrifices being made.
Is it important to create these works of art?
But again, is it enough?
I still don’t think so…
Let me say this now. I don’t have any answers. You won’t leave this post thinking, wow, he’s hit it on the head!
That is not my intent. But my hope is that we can all be a bit more aware and leave this post with some questions in our minds.
My original intent with this post was to rant about the lack of support for troops returning from various tours in the current hell-holes of the earth.
But ranting isn’t productive either.
In truth, when I started research for this post, I did some digging on-line for programs intended to support veterans and their families here in Canada, as well as in the USA and United Kingdom.
To my surprise, there are a lot of support systems in place.
That’s good, because veterans of any age are dealing with a tonne of shite that you and I can only imagine. Here are just a few:
re-integration into civilian society
proper health care for injuries sustained in line of duty
PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
financial uncertainty and debt
That is a pretty heavy list, and there are a lot more that could be added to it.
The support that is out there is largely charity and foundation-driven. Many groups seem to be doing some outstanding work, and they do get some government support, but perhaps not enough.
Shouldn’t the people sending troops into danger do their utmost to help those same troops when they return home and are in crisis as a result of combat?
This leads me to the title of this post: Rewarding Sacrifice: What today’s world leaders can learn from Alexander the Great
Whenever I think of the prime example of a true leader, I think of Alexander the Great.
Yes, I know many think of him as blood-thirsty tyrant, a maniacal conqueror, maybe even a selfish psychopath.
Whatever you think of Alexander the Great, however, you can’t deny that he shared in his soldiers’ hardships, and led by example. He inspired his troops to do what many thought was impossible, and after it all, including looming mutinies, they still loved him.
Alexander led from the front in every engagement, and when the battles were over, he knew how to reward his soldiers.
He knew that they had given everything to him, that they had been away from their families for years. They had fought and died, and Alexander, though disappointed with their grumblings at times, knew how to reward their sacrifices.
So what can world leaders learn from Alexander the Great?
What prompted this question was a passage I came across while doing some research for the (still ongoing) Alexander novels.
When Alexander’s army had crossed the Gedrosian Desert at the end of their long march to India, and they arrived at Opis, the troops, jealous of ranks given to Persians, threatened mutiny again.
Alexander delivered his famous ‘speech at Opis’ then, speaking to his disgruntled troops, not as the son of Zeus, or the new ‘Great King’, but as one of them. He could do this, and his words did move them, for he had shared their toils. If you would like to read the full speech in Arrian’s Anabasis, CLICK HERE.
But what we are concerned with here is not the mutiny, or the speech itself. It is how Alexander rewarded the veterans, those unfit for service due to old age and injury, or those unwilling to go further.
According to A.P. Dascalakis in his book Alexander the Great and Hellenism, Alexander:
“…had paid off all their debts, without asking how they had been contracted: they received high pay, besides what they seized as booty after every siege. Most of them had golden wreaths, as immortal guerdons of their valor and of honor from him. And if any died, their death was glorious, their burial splendid; bronze statues of most of them were set up in their towns, their parents were honoured and were exempt of all tax or levy.”
Think about some of that for a moment…and then think of the list of things troops returning home have to deal with after serving.
From what I can tell, there are support programs to help veterans with PTSD, injuries, and general health care, but we still hear a lot about veterans living on the streets, unable to afford a home, however small, or even get a job.
Some might say ‘Hey, a lot of other people are out there facing those same things!’, and that is true, but not everyone steps forward to defend their fellow citizens on the battlefield.
Alexander the Great honoured his soldiers with wreaths and statues and his love, but more practically, he paid off their debts, gave them good pensions, and rewarded their families by exempting them from taxation. He also ordered that soldiers’ children be given a proper education.
This got me to wondering…
If returning veterans did not have to worry about debt, taxation, homelessness, little to no pension, or further education for themselves or their children, they could focus more on the intense healing needed for them to deal with PTSD, health issues, new disabilities, and re-integration into the society which they had stepped up to defend.
I think Alexander the Great had it right. Give your veterans the rewards they deserve, commensurate with the sacrifices they have made.
I know this is more practical, but sometimes I’m guessing that is what’s needed.
Here are some crazy ideas Alexander the Great would approve, and that world leaders could implement for veterans:
Forgive all debts for veterans and their families so that they can have a fresh start
Give them boundless health care to overcome their wounds (mental and physical)
Ensure all vets get high-level pensions
Create legislation that forces all colleges and universities to provide free tuition for veterans and veterans’ children
Some of this may already be done in some countries, but I suspect most not.
Does this mean higher taxes for the rest of us civilians?
Likely, yes. But these are things that I think we can do for those who put themselves on the line for the rest of us.
Call me naïve and idealistic, but with everything else vets are dealing with, money worries should not be among them.
As I said before, I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t know about all the programs for veterans and their families that are out there.
Here are a few that I know of and which I came across while researching this post:
In the United Kingdom:
In the United States:
If any of you know of some particularly helpful charities or programs in the country where you are, please do share the information in the comments below. You never know who will be reading and whether something here might help.
Also, if you haven’t heard about Theatre of War, you may want to check out this post on healing PTSD with ancient Greek tragedy. PTSD was a condition that afflicted ancient warriors as well as modern ones, and this particular theatre group has been making great headway in helping veterans to cope with PTSD. CLICK HERE to check it out.
As for what us civilians can do, it may not be enough, but every little must help.
Pin a poppy on your jacket, donate to a veterans’ charity, go to a ceremony, write a blog post, shake a vet’s hand, say thank you to a veteran.
It’s all better than doing nothing, lest we forget…
Thank you for reading