THE DAILY news from Iraq is heartbreaking: the death and suffering inflicted on the people of that country, the homeward journeys of hundreds of dead and wounded to America. This newspaper chronicles the lives of war dead as they are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. At Walter Reed Army Medical Center and elsewhere, the wounded -- and there are so many of them because of the nature of this war -- recuperate and work hard to recover. Some are fearfully maimed. The stories are full of sorrow, the personal struggles daunting, the hurt to families deep and unforgettable.

But this is not a day for victims. It's a day to pay tribute to those who have fought -- to their sacrifice, yes, but, more important, to the spirit that motivates them. It's a moment for honor, not pity, and for recognizing that those who served have not only suffered but have also set themselves above the rest of us -- made themselves our betters -- in a very real way. And it is also a time to acknowledge that while men -- and now increasing numbers of women -- have entered the country's service for many reasons over the years, including economic ones, a fair number do it because they seek the honor that goes to those who fulfill their duty. They do so as free people choosing a dangerous calling.

The title of Michael Shaara's novel about Gettysburg -- "The Killer Angels" -- captures the basic, cruel contradiction of warfare: a bloody business in which decent, perhaps even sublime, human beings can find themselves deeply engaged in the business of killing others like them. In fact, we've long since lost most of our illusions about war, yet many of our best young people are still willing to put themselves in harm's way if it is seen as necessary.

"If you look at history you'll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot," Col. Joshua Chamberlain, the Maine professor turned soldier, tells his men in Mr. Shaara's Gettysburg account. "They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we're here for something new. . . . We're an army going out to set other men free."

War is still awful, and there are still good causes on this Veterans Day.