Courageous Restraint: A Medal for Doing Nothing

jenny erikson
Photo by Kristen Bons
The men and women who serve our country as soldiers are awesome and amazing. They have my utmost respect and gratitude for putting themselves in harm's way for the benefit of their American brothers and sisters back home.

Occasionally, one of these soldiers will be so incredibly brave in the face of danger that they receive a medal. The Purple Heart is awarded when a soldier is wounded or killed in service. The Silver Star is awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States. The highest honor of all is the Medal of Honor, which is awarded to those who distinguish themselves "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States."


A new military decoration might be added to the list soon. The "Courageous Restraint" medal would be awarded to soldiers for holding fire to save civilian lives.

From the Marine Corps Times

"The idea is consistent with our approach," explained Air Force Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis. "Our young men and women display remarkable courage every day, including situations where they refrain from using lethal force, even at risk to themselves, in order to prevent possible harm to civilians. In some situations our forces face in Afghanistan, that restraint is an act of discipline and courage not much different than those seen in combat actions."

Consideration of such an award, first reported by an Associated Press reporter in Afghanistan, doesn't mean that, if approved, troops would be pressured to prevent such casualties at risk to themselves, Sholtis said.

I'm seriously confused by this potential new military honor. Soldier Jane would be eligible for it if she chose not to use lethal force to prevent civilian casualties, even at risk to herself. Yet Soldier Jane should act to protect herself. Well which is it?

It isn't a courageous act deserving of military decoration to not fire into a group of civilians standing around minding their own beeswax. The real courage happens when Soldier Jane has to make the very difficult decision to pull out her gun and shoot someone in order to protect herself or her fellow soldiers.

That's what deserves a medal. Not standing around doing nothing and putting yourself, your troops, and possibly even your country at risk because there could possibly be a civilian caught in the crossfire. That's not bravery. That's bad decision-making.

Medals are awarded for actions that go above and beyond the call of duty. I was under the impression that trying to prevent civilian casualties was the norm for our soldiers. If this medal for "courageous restraint" becomes a reality, every soldier is deserving of it. If every soldier has one, it will be as meaningful as the buttons on a soldier's uniform.

At least the buttons serve a purpose. 

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