Senator Tom Cotton offers an intimate portrait of “The Old Guard,” the revered U.S. Army unit whose mission is to honor fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery and in which Cotton was a platoon leader between his combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There is likely to be vanishingly little appeal to a book about a cemetery—unless, of course, the cemetery is Arlington, and the book’s chief cast of characters is Arlington’s storied Old Guard, and its author is a himself a former Old Guard member. In Tom Cotton’s Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour at Arlington National Cemetery, these lofty criteria are met, and then some ... Sacred Duty is itself a kind of love story, with Arlington as its theater. It is about a love that reveres the American proposition that all men are created equal, a love that stands back-to-back on a dusty hill when all hope is gone and the ammo has run out, a love that throws itself on a grenade to save a buddy’s life.
...Cotton sets aside policy questions to talk about rituals and the feelings they inspire, giving voice to some of the conservative movement’s most cherished sentiments. He lifts a veil to expose not only how that movement thinks but also how it feels, not only its self-interested rationality but also its special styles of tenderness and desire ... Sacred Duty is a pretty bad book, thin on research and thick with platitudes, but it does reinforce a truth about the emotional side of politics in the United States of America: our low regard for real, grown-up, civilian life, with all its sins and struggles, can be accompanied, and covered up, by some sweet feelings about innocents and martyrs.
In Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour at Arlington National Cemetery, the junior senator from Arkansas has written an encomium to the martial virtues as embodied by his former unit, the storied 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment—the Old Guard. In the process, Cotton echoes Plato’s view that the ritual of honoring those who make the ultimate sacrifice has as much to do with advising the living as it does with praising the dead ... His intimate study conveys an appropriately awed appreciation for those who have borne the sting of battle and the burden of its aftermath ... Cotton also offers a wealth of interesting historical and procedural detail ... To read Sacred Duty is to be struck by the chasm that has opened between the military and the political class ... Cotton’s account of the noble regiment established at the dawn of our nation and still standing sentry over those who gave 'the last, full measure of devotion' to the republic is a welcome reminder that those virtues still exist somewhere in America.