On November 10 President Barack Obama delivered a speech at Fort Hood where five days before 13 soldiers were killed and 29 wounded in a shooting rampage by a U.S. army psychiatrist.
The attack resulted in the largest number of U.S servicemen killed in one day anywhere in the world in almost four and a half year years: 14 Americans were killed in helicopter crashes in Afghanistan on October 26 of this year but three were Drug Enforcement Agency officials, 11 soldiers. The last day preceding November 5 when military deaths were higher than those at Fort Hood was on June 28, 2005 when 19 troops were killed in Afghanistan.
There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of the sentiments expressed by Obama or to believe that whoever had won the U.S. presidential election last year would not have said something similar.
While mentioning of the dead that "Some had known intense combat in Iraq and Afghanistan," Obama's emphasis, as that of the government and the country's media as whole, was on honoring those who defend America. Especially those who die defending America.
In fact he said "We are a nation that endures because of the courage of those who defend it" and "Their life's work is our security, and the freedom that we too often take for granted. Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town; every dawn that a flag is unfurled; every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - that is their legacy."
He also bemoaned the fact that "This is a time of war. And yet these Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle. They were killed here, on American soil, in the heart of this great American community. It is this fact that makes the tragedy even more painful and even more incomprehensible."
In a previous era, indeed in all eras before the modern one, it was understood that soldiers defending their country died on their own land. Or at least near its borders. That was axiomatic.
A soldier who died abroad wasn't defending his country but conquering someone else's. During the past century defending a third party's security or peace was added, that nation generally being an ally or one portrayed as the victim of an adversary's attack. Or threat of attack. The word defend has since taken on such elasticity that it has become almost limitless in its application and is frequently used in the opposite sense of its traditional meaning.
It is a transitive verb and requires an object. And a preposition, against. A soldier doesn't simply defend, he defends against something. An attack. An attack by an adversary. And if his action is truly defensive, that adversary must be an aggressor.
An invading army can defend its positions, its flanks or its supply lines, but is not defending its country.
American soldiers deployed to war and occupation zones from Fort Hood and other military bases in their own land or that of others are not defending their country. Not their nation, nor its borders, nor its coasts. Not their communities, their homes or their families.
They may be securing their government's and the nation's business interests' objectives - economic, energy, political and geopolitical - but they are not defending their country. Not even by extension.
For example, like all countries Russia, China and India are alert to their national interests and take what measures they can to protect and advance them, but they have no troops stationed overseas or bases abroad. Much less in six continents like the U.S., which has a base in Africa and three in Australia as well as in its own continent, Europe, Asia and seven new ones in South America, in Colombia.
In a culture of perpetual warfare, in a warrior society, violence is done to language and logic just as it is employed against people.
Defending one's country is sometimes extended to include protecting one's citizens. No matter where they are in the broad world.
But America's last three wars - Yugoslavia ten years ago, Afghanistan starting in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 - were waged against countries whose governments in no manner threatened Americans either at home or abroad.