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Noble Lie or Noble Life?

  • Published
  • By Col. David Penny
  • 731st Air Mobility Squadron
An essential core value of the U.S. Air Force is service before self. Easy to say, hard to do. We, as Airmen serving our country, define this core value simply by stating our oath: " and defend the Constitution of the United States..." But we go further and so do our families. The varied assignments separated from family and friends, in conflict or not, are the most public indicators of this value. Sacrifice after sacrifice levied upon us are testaments to our service--a few Americans serving the rest, ensuring we have all the privileges of freedom while we endure the hardships required to protect them. This is something to be aware of, be proud of, and be ever watchful to maintain.

But service before self is not a new construct. U.S. military members and our families have a bond that can be described as "The Noble Lie." Thousands of years ago, Plato, in writing "the Republic" used Latin to describe our common sacrifice. Sadly, translations to date have not provided a reasonable description of the concept. [The most common definition of noble is, "possessing high ideals or excellent moral character," while a similarly common definition of lie is, "to say something that is not true in a conscious effort to deceive somebody."]

After centuries of translation, the term exists in the lexicon of philosophy as an arguably contentious concept (Wikipedia link here ). Putting aside the various diatribes scholars have employed to argue the basis for Plato's observations, the concept remains the same: We serve a greater good and accept an uncommon adversity where others would shrink--a noble decision. It is not a lie. Service before self is an indicator of character, a brand of heroism, a badge of honor. Service before self is a way of life.

Whether serving in Kandahar, Karbala, Kentucky, or Korea, all Airmen and our loyal families face the reality that they must accept adversity and perform at levels uncommon to the rest of our countrymen so that all may flourish.

Indeed, service before self is a decision we all make. It is a mindset we all embody. It is a core value of the United States Air Force, a reality today, an implicit debt to be paid in the future, and a requirement to ensure freedom prevails all over the Earth. Adherence to the core value of service before self is more than a noble lie, it is a noble life!