Food For Thought From A Veteran By Guest Blogger Howard Carter

The Core Belief

The following remarks are from my friend Howard Carter who recently retired from the military after 22 years.  8 days before, arguably, the most devise election in the Republic’s history, I find this post to be quite prescient.


Driving through Williamstown these last few months since my return from service in the South I have become re-acquainted with the nuances of Northeastern cause mobiles. These cars carry bumper stickers that are largely indicative of Northeast and West Coast thoughts and ideas, not exactly the sentiments I saw more commonly on display in Tennessee. That is fine, because diversity is what makes our Republic strong; the unity of our population, even though we have some disagreements that are polarized by “conservative” and “liberal” regions of our nation. That noted, the Veterans in uniform with whom I served during my 22 years of service never focused on political differences. They never publicly stated political positions while in uniform. They never used the uniform for cause other than service to our great Republic. This Veterans Day, just following a highly partisan election season, I am proud that loyalty, unity, and liberty are still the cause of our military – that the less than 1% of the population serving in our armed forces serves during a time of global conflict with distinction, pride, ethics, and sacrifice.

That is a small amount, less than 1%. The hope that we will be able to maintain current levels of security with so few – or even fewer – in uniform is one that every American shares, but such hopes deny the lessons of history. We know that history does not support the premise that we can guarantee liberty and security with so few at war forever.

Now back to bumper stickers on cause mobiles. One particular set of bumper stickers that I saw a few months back here in town struck me as a contradiction. There in front of me as I drove down Rt. 2 was this stereotypical northern red rusted 90s Subaru Outback plastered with causes: stickers such as “Unity with Haiti,” and “Save Darfur.” However, also on the rear panel were two stickers that I found in conflict with those very sentiments. On display just inches below “Save Darfur” were bumper stickers reading “Stop American Imperialism” and “End wars.” This naive contradiction hit me with a jaded familiarity. Veterans, like me, come to understand this odd disparity of American desire to stop oppression with minimal violence often sends our military into harm’s way, and that the public’s second guessing begins before boots even hit the ground. Such is service in a democracy.

Thankfully, our Veterans seldom did or do second-guess their role in our service. Our military as always lawfully follows the orders, guidance, and policy as commanded by our duly elected civil authority. Service members do their jobs; and without our military, the largest humanitarian assistance organization currently on earth, our government would not be able to project power – power that is required to create security, transport goods and services to those in need, and support the common good around the globe. The number of times our military has been used for humanitarian causes is so numerous and underreported that many instances are forgotten over time: missions such as creating stability in a home region after a flood following Katrina, providing aid and comfort after a tsunami in Asia, rebuilding Europe and Asia after World War Two, to name just a few. These humanitarian efforts of our armed forces are endless and often unheralded.  Without veterans we could never save Darfur, or topple a brutal dictator in Syria, if so ordered. On Veterans Day we all remember that our nation’s armed forces, while certainly capable of making mistakes borne of both policy and human fallibility, are indeed a force for good that provides massive amounts of comfort to those in need.

The men and women in the United States Military are out there around this world right now as I speak, in almost every nation on earth. They are following our civil orders and upholding American integrity. They are supporting the common good, promoting basic human rights, giving aid and comfort to millions in need. They are establishing and maintaining key relationships with both military and civil partners, gathering information, and targeting extremists who thrive on violence born of exploitation.  In the world, even here in the USA, are those who use religious differences, race, ethnic based hatred, sexuality, class, gender, and commercial conflict to create the dangerous myth that certain populations of people are inherently evil. This threat of evil is used to seize control, to oppress minorities, and to kill the innocent. For us as Americans, regardless of bumper stickers and the rancor of this current spirited political season, we are held together by the expression of our Constitution; a Constitution which is based on the premise that the people are fundamentally good. We believe that people are to be trusted with authority, arms, freedom to worship, and a voice. This is a fight of good versus evil. We must always remember the examples of tyrants in history and remain vigilant. We must honor the principle that might does not make right. How our Veterans in uniform behave to serve the general good is very important to us. We have come to expect and should never stop demanding high standards of service. The fact that we instill so much respect, power, and authority in our services is an American tradition. And it matters how we treat those who return with the scars of wars that we, the public, have decided to wage. Whether to fight in Germany, Africa, the Pacific Islands, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Kuwait, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places, or perhaps, in the future, to attempt to save places like Darfur or Syria. Service is a reflection of our country’s values. Regardless of liberal or conservative ideals, wealth or poverty, town or gown, we are united as Americans by our common instinct to do something to stop oppression. We are united in our belief that people are fundamentally good. Our Veterans are reflections of this moral compass and unity. They reflect this through their primary oath to support our Constitution. No man can lawfully subvert this primary oath. Support for our constitution and following lawful orders supersedes the authority of the entire chain of command. 

As WW2, Korea, and Vietnam Veterans pass with time, and the power of veterans as a voting block and influence dwindles, it is important that our support for veterans is solid. We can rest assured, our active duty veterans are following the footsteps of WW2 doctrine, when our greatest generation learned what a small place the world can be, and what will happen if we stop paying attention. We truly miss this greatest generation as they pass. Their wisdom and pragmatism brought us to the safe place we are today. The common denominator of service to country allowed them to work across political party lines to accomplish the will of the people. As this block of veterans commanded respect through their actions so should we. It is important that my and future generation maintain vigilance. We cannot allow service to be relegated to the niceties of public relations statements and political sound bites.  We must ensure that memorials remain visible at places like the foot of Spring Street, that our veterans’ halls are active and productive, that elite colleges adopt yellow ribbon policies, and that the nation does not forget what it asks of itself. We must always resist the temptation to relegate those that have served for our causes to the fringes of our fabric, especially if it is because we are embarrassed and second guessing our own nation’s goals and actions. This is why we have such memorials and a Veterans Day – to never forget what we have done as a country, to reflect as a nation and respect those who have served. Our Veterans are not victims. They are humanitarian warriors and peacekeepers who served as a projection of our values. Our unity demands that we act with respect for each other and those who have served regardless of political affiliation and social strata. We must always remember that we order some among us who volunteer to risk their lives, to fight and kill in war, in support of our nation’s noble ideals.

Now back again, one more time, to bumper stickers. In the end it really does not matter if the bumper sticker reads “End American Imperialism,” as may be seen more in liberal bastions like Williamstown; “Support the Troops,” as may be seen more in blue collar areas like North Adams; or “War Is The Answer You Hippie,” as may be seen more in southern conservative strongholds like Nashville. Our differences are minute when compared to the strength of our ideals and the knowledge of what we have accomplished for the general good, both here at home and across the globe. We should be proud and guarded about our role in this world with the knowledge and the humility of knowing we have not, nor ever will be, beyond being wrong. We must always remain vigilant about the premise of our own desires and power projections.

Today, we still have unity, liberty, fidelity, and good will through our democratic inclusion. We all have the humility of diversity rooted in our belief and our hope that people are fundamentally good. Our unity of reflection on Veterans Day reminds us that people are good.  It is a part of what makes us a great country.

It is truly an honor to speak today.  Thank you, and god speed.

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