Karthik Venkatraj: Honor our nation’s first principles | SteamboatToday.com

Karthik Venkatraj: Honor our nation’s first principles

The sweet smell of cardamom began to fill the small office — a stark contrast to the potent stale smell of smoke.

The smells of war can sometimes be its most sensory experience. And they are what I reflect upon – along with their accompanying sights, sounds and feelings – this Memorial Day week.

A soldier offered us a small cup of the sweet and spicy tea. Numerous conversations filled the air as men excitedly, and with great gesticulation, discussed the events of the day. After several minutes of conversation, an elderly gentleman behind the desk slowly began speaking. He welcomed us, asked for our names and then slowly went into a discussion. This would be the first of many key leader engagements, and my first interaction with an Iraqi general.

Within our delegation was an Army major from Ohio, an Air Force non-commissioned officer, and myself, an Army Captain from Colorado and son of Indian immigrants. We were a microcosm of our nation. The uniting force among us: A common mission and purpose as well as an enduring love for our nation.

Every American whom I fought alongside had a deep appreciation for our nation's first principle of natural law – the recognition that every person has an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Its influence distinguishes our thriving republic from the war-torn misery that engulfs much of the world and characterizes much of human history.

Millennials like myself are compassionate, globally-connected individuals who care deeply for issues concerning our communities, our nation and our world. And, we have grown up in an age where information to this end is readily available. We can mobilize awareness on Twitter or Facebook as easily as put together a fundraiser on that issue. However, we too often lose sight of the fundamental issues on which our nation is based.

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How to cut through the clutter? Focus on these issues that address timeless principles like human rights and natural law. These principles are best articulated in the Declaration of Independence.

Because of our recognition of natural rights given by a higher power, our nation, from its inception, recognized human rights. And, although it took several decades for this seed to realize the tree of inclusivity, the Declaration of Independence planted it.

And that's why we fight. To defend the natural rights that have made the United States the richest and freest country in the history of this world. As President Ronald Reagan said, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same…"

Given the sacrifices of succeeding generations of Americans, it should not stand as a surprise that the Declaration of Independence, crafted hundreds of years ago, stands as a cry for freedom throughout our world. And that is something we, as all Americans fighting for liberty either on the battlefield or the boardwalk, should honor this Memorial Day week.

Karthik Venkatraj served in Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, is the student body president at the University of Colorado Law School and is a member of the Steamboat Institute’s Emerging Leaders Advisory Council.