Redefining National Security

Tomorrow is the first of the presidential debates for this election cycle. If tradition holds, one of the major topics that will be addressed over all these events is the concept of “national security”. And most, if not all, the questions related to that phrase will center around the military, Russia, terrorism, and other topics that involve ships, bombs, and the other stuff of war.

However, that thinking is far too narrow for the world in which we currently live. We need to expand the definition of “national security”.

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Thank You, No

Swearing In

I am a veteran.

But please do NOT thank me for my service.

Because not all military service is the same.

I was a junior officer in the Air Force for just under four years. In the final days of my training, the armistice for the Vietnam War was signed and I spent most of my remaining time on a dusty air field in central California. Considering my job classification, I probably wouldn’t have gotten closer to the area of combat than Guam anyway.

Frankly, my service was of more personal benefit than it was to the country at large.

So, please find someone who actually deserves the “thanks for your service”. And the breakfast discount.

However, there are two better ways to show your appreciation to members of the military, past and present, on this Veterans Day. But they will require a whole lot more effort.

One is to demand that the government does everything possible to help the men and women who were in combat and suffered for it.

Spend the money necessary to care for every veteran who needs it. Don’t offer lip service. We certainly don’t need any more monuments. Pay to provide every resource necessary to help them recover and thrive.

Second, do something to avoid sending people to war in the first place.

This country has built a huge, bloated, overfunded military and the attitude that we must use it for almost every problem.

On the other side, we spend far, far less time and money on working with the rest of the world to peacefully resolve conflicts. Through more complicated processes like diplomacy and international aid.

If we flipped that equation, we would produce fewer veterans, and fewer still who are injured. We could then divert some of the large chunks of national resources that now go into developing new ways to kill people and put them towards building a better society.

I know, too simple. Too idealistic.

Just chalk this up to some random thoughts on yet another day on which we talk about honoring the troops, and do little else.

My nephew, on the right, being sworn into the Army following his graduation from West Point, deserves a whole lot more thanks than I do.

We Need Something More Than “Heroes”

As we approach yet another national holiday that the media will imbue with a military undertone, an “essayist and critic” writing in the New York Times asks if “heroes” in various styles of uniforms are really what the country needs at this point in our history.

“America needs heroes,” it is sometimes said, a phrase that’s often uttered in a wistful tone, almost cooingly, as if we were talking about a lonely child. But do we really “need heroes”? We need leaders, who marshal us to the muddle. We need role models, who show us how to deal with it. But what we really need are citizens, who refuse to infantilize themselves with talk of heroes and put their shoulders to the public wheel instead. The political scientist Jonathan Weiler sees the cult of the uniform as a kind of citizenship-by-proxy. Soldiers and cops and firefighters, he argues, embody a notion of public service to which the rest of us are now no more than spectators. What we really need, in other words, is a swift kick in the pants.

That’s the last paragraph. The whole piece is well worth your time to read.

This is all part of our national tendency to spend far more time and effort memorializing the past than we do in planning for and constructing the future.