Today is profound. It is the first Veterans Day post-Afghanistan, the longest sustained conflict in U.S. history. The aftermath bears an eerie similarity to that of our second longest, the war in …
Today is profound. It is the first Veterans Day post-Afghanistan, the longest sustained conflict in U.S. history. The aftermath bears an eerie similarity to that of our second longest, the war in Vietnam.
Each ended in withdrawals that left the country questioning its leadership and its ability to effectively fight and win long wars. Including Iraq, each produced between 2 and 3 million veterans who served “in country.” Lastly, social unrest stemming from what many claim is the inability of our government to deliver the totality of rights promised under the Constitution to its own people hampered government ability to effectively prosecute, and much of the publics support for, each war.
Thankfully, a major difference is that our public holds our Armed Forces and veterans in much greater esteem than in 1975. The military will doubtless continue to earn that esteem by faithfully upholding and defending the Constitution in support of the shifting U.S. focus back to the global leadership role many expect of it. How can veterans earn theirs?
For guidance, perhaps we can look to General Jonathan Wainwright, USA, hero and veteran of the Second World War, a war that still shapes how we idealize the spirit of our military and veterans. General Wainwright earned the Medal of Honor for his determined final defense of the Philippines, and endured years of harsh captivity after capture.
Commanding the 4th Army after the war, he wrote a sobering and heartfelt personal letter to soldiers discharged while under his command. Too long to print here, it is worth reading. Two paragraphs in particular stand out:
“If you see intolerance and hate, speak out against them. Make your individual voices heard, not for selfish things, but for honor and decency among men, for the rights of all people.
“Remember, too, that no American can afford to be disinterested in any part of his government, whether it is county, city, state or nation.”
He is tasking veterans to avoid comfortable, self-serving advocacy, and ensure all people are treated honorably, decently, and governed fairly.
Veterans can and should play this role during this time of unrest by trusting others, studying mistakes, and welcoming opposing views. As military professionals, we have done all of these. We served with Americans who share none of our background and have their own passions, yet we knew we could trust them, and we were better for it; we should want our elected officials to assume the same of otherwise qualified professionals with different backgrounds and their own passions.
We learned to win through objective study of historic military errors and testing our own biases with opposing views. We should insist our students be able to objectively study societal errors, ills, and their impacts (especially after two costly and unsatisfactory foreign ventures exacerbated by them), instead of asking our elected officials to effectively censor our teachers to the point where students can no longer challenge sacred assumptions.
These are honorable and respectable ways veterans can fulfill General Wainwright’s last orders.
William A. Bullard III
Captain, United States Navy, Retired