Over the past 50 years of American life, there has been a significant shift in who serves in the U.S. Armed Forces. As a result, most Americans are less and less in touch with the realities of military life, the struggles and victories of those who serve, and the truth of who fights and dies for American liberty. Today, Memorial Day, is a time to remember those who gave their lives for ours. It is also an opportunity to rethink how we understand conflict and policy.
I had the honor of attending and graduating from the U.S. Naval War College and the privilege to serve as a civilian in the national security community. Now that I have left government service to for executive careers in cybersecurity, I have taken time to reflect on some of the hard realities associated with our national security and foreign policy agenda.
The Realities of War
Like many in my position, I have grappled with the tremendous sadness of losing friends to war. I have grieved with families who have lost loved ones and stood at the gravestones of my friends. Some of the best Americans I know lay six feet beneath the grass at Arlington and elsewhere. It is important to remember that, to remind ourselves of the reality that our freedom is paid for by the blood and sacrifice of others, and to deeply understand that no soldier, sailor, airman, or marine asks for war.
“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” — Douglas MacArthur
Today is about remembering those men and women who died in service and commitment to our nation — those who gave the last full measure of devotion to America. Memorial Day is important because it awakens people to the realities of conflict.
In simple terms, committed men and women die because we do not have the discipline to deter from conflict. This is not to say that we ought not show force — but rather, it is to say that we must first show restraint because the cost of war is the lives of many.
The Importance of Service
While I never served in uniform, I did play a small but important role in advancing the safety and security of our nation. And many others do as well. From analysts and computer scientists who support intelligence and homeland security operations to linguists and diplomats who strive to prevent conflicts; we must remember that national security is a team sport. And if we want to remember fewer and fewer of our brothers and sisters on future Memorial Day’s, it is time for us to reinvest ourselves in service.
More and more, I see less and less of a desire to serve from so many who could add so much to our nation. I cannot help but think that it is our corrosive politics that stops able men and women from choosing public service. And we need them. If for no other reason that this:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead
The Politics of War & Conflict
Yet, I also understand the trepidation involved in choosing service as a career. The politics of war are corrosive and are ever-increasing as a corrupting force that threatens the future of America. With that as a reality, it is hard to understand why many would choose to serve.
It was Karl von Clausewitz, a Prussian general and famed military theorist who said:
“War is the continuation of politics by other means.” — Carl von Clausewitz
If that is true; if war is the natural result of our inability to reconcile our politics outside of conflict, then today’s politics spell the reality of tomorrow’s future. And that — that in itself should be the concerning reality that we all grapple with today. We must change our politics if we want to truly support the men and women of the Armed Forces.
Our politics use the men and women of the Armed Forces as a political football. So many in power claim to “support the troops” but take little-to-no action to stop conflict. Members of the Armed Forces will go to war if called — but they would chose to show strength through peace instead and project power rather than have to use it.
But that is not the most concerning outcome of the casual relationship policy-makers often have with the realities of the military. In recent years, policy-makers have not meaningfully raised the pay of those who serve, they have not found solutions to get them and their families off food stamps, and they have not reformed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs such that their service is honored by our commitment to their lifelong well-being. And yet, we ask them to fight and die at home and abroad, put themselves in harms way, and insert themselves into the conflicts that we create through our lack of diplomatic foresight and fortitude. It pains me that we have this day of remembrance but not a commitment to daily action.
For those who truly want to memorialize the fallen men and women of America’s Armed Forces, it would be wise of us to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson, whose wisdom would go far to prevent unnecessary conflict:
“Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.” — Thomas Jefferson
The Military Entertainment Complex
We have a real problem in America that is creating the circumstances that is getting people killed. Our government’s military industrial complex promotes the procurement of advanced offensive military systems in a time where we are fighting adversaries whose modus operandi is pipe bombs, antiquated machine guns, and suicide vests. Those weapons are extremely deadly — but they cannot be combatted by a $337 million F-35 aircraft. And yet, that weapon platform is the single highest procurment request of any single platform in the current Air Force budget. And while I do not doubt that we may soon fight a war with an industrialized nation with a real military, people and not weapons systems win wars.
Many have rightfully criticized current and past administrations with supporting defense contractors in place of truly supporting the troops. When you look at the breakdowns for weapons systems vs. military pay and training, it’s hard to fight the facts.
Our political establishment’s obsession with weapons systems feeds our media’s fetish with military weaponry. Twenty-four hour news fixates on images of missiles, rockets, aircraft, and bombs, which sanitizes war in such a way that makes it feel like entertainment — not conflict. This is very dangerous for members of the Armed Forces. When the general American population is disconnected with war, view it as entertainment, and do not feel the effects of conflict — men and women in the military die.
You Can Serve
We need a renewed commitment to American service. More of us must invest ourselves into the cause of peace and security. From careers in the private sector that promote these virtues to service in the uniform; more Americans must answer the call to serve. Do not think that you cannot contribute to the mission if you do not enlist. There are many ways to serve — and those in uniform are grateful to those who give their industry to America through their labor and love of country.
This Memorial Day is no different for me than so many others. I pray for my fallen friends, call their families, and hang my flag. But in some way, today is different. Today, I am making a choice to do more than remember my friends; I choose to honor them by taking action.
Over the course of this year, I will be reaching out to lawmakers, military officials, and key Administration staff to remind them that their actions have consequences. I would ask you to join me in these endeavors if for no other reason than this: I do not want to add any more names to the list of those who I remember each Memorial Day.
I believe in the words of John Adams, who once famously said the following, which has prompted me to commit myself and my career to service:
“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.” — John Adams
The single greatest action that you can take between each Memorial Day is to commit yourself to service, to peace, and to the virtue of America.