'He lost/gave his life [for his country].'
I have issues with these concepts.
Lost. There are several definitions of the word lost, all relating to a belonging no longer in one's possession however in this context lost implies fault on the part of the individual, as in 'he lost his car keys' due to carelessness.
Gave. This has as one of its many definitions 'to relinquish or sacrifice' as in giving one's life for a cause, however the vast majority of definitions relate to deliberately passing possession of an item to another person. Either way, giving is a deliberate act. Even in the case where sacrifice is the intended meaning it infers an intent on the individual which cannot be proven.
I admit that of the two perhaps Lost is the weaker of the arguments, but I feel is does have merit.
Most often these phrases are used, notably by the news media, to describe deaths of military personnel in combat, or to describe the victims of an accident or disaster. This is where I have an issue with them. Someone killed in combat or as the result of an accident in the vast majority of cases is not at fault when they are killed. Therefore they cannot have lost their life in the context of carelessness. Yes they have lost it in the sense it is irrecoverable, but the fault is not theirs.
Equally, only the person in combat who acts knowing that what they are about to do will, or is very likely to, kill them can be said to have given their life. Otherwise their death is the result not of their action but of the enemy who killed them. There is a reason the military use the acronym KIA. It means Killed In Action and is precisely what happened. It is not LHL – Lost His/Her Life – or GHL – Gave His/Her Life. It is KIA. When I last mentioned this to a friend who is a retired Army officer, his response regarding 'gave their life' was 'KIA would seem to be apposite'. I mention this simply so that the reader will be aware that these are not simply the ramblings of an armchair warrior.
Responsibility for the death of a person from an accident lies not always with them unless they made an error, but equally as likely from the action of a third party. Only in the case of a natural disaster is no third party to blame.
My second issue, particular to deaths of the military is the phrase '.. for his/her country.' Unless all troops attack the enemy in a Kenneth Branaghesque 'Cry God for Harry, England and St George' manner I think it is highly unlikely that the immediate motivation at the time is for their country. While I know that many do join the armed forces to serve their country, and you could therefore technically say they died for their country, I think at best it is more accurate to say they died while in the service of their country. More often than not, whilst actually in combat, in all the accounts I have read and heard of over the years, what binds troops together and the comradeship of fighting for their mates is what compels them to act. The monarch may be thousands of miles away but your best mate at your shoulder is who I think you most likely fight for.
I however have never served in the Armed Forces, so if anyone who has or is currently serving, reads this and feels my conclusions are way off I would be more than happy to discuss any of this blog.
As a final point, going back to the news media. I feel there is an element of political correctness in the reporting, particularly of war zones. It seems it is far more acceptable to use phrases like lost/gave their life instead of the brutal truth that for example 30 soldiers did not lose their lives, '30 soldiers were killed in combat'. They are quite willing to show us graphic images of wounded civilians, with the warning that it 'might upset' us, but seem to want to mollycoddle us when talking of the deaths of our armed forces.
Incidentally, the habit of warning us of graphic images, what's that about? It's not a soccer result so we can leave the room and not have it spoilt if we haven't seen the game. We should not be shielded from it, and given the chance to think 'I don't want to see that'. Unless we are subjected to the horrors of war we will not as a society, indeed as a species, work towards the ultimate goal of eradicating war as a means of settling our differences.