A Thought for Veterans Day

  • Published
  • By Col. (ret.) Jim McKeon
  • President and CEO Rapid City Area Chamber of Commerce
Once a year, on Nov. 11, we turn our thoughts to Veterans. In my opinion, the proportion is way out of balance. If you think about it, we should honor our veterans' everyday of the year.

In my opinion, few military people advocate going to war. They know the horrors of it. Many have seen the killing, maiming and wounding first hand. Others get a feel for it in their training.

Our civilian leaders decide when diplomacy has failed and the military arm of our national strategy should be employed. The Airmen, Marines, Sailors and Soldiers, true to their oath, apply their training, leadership and passion to this call to action.

They don't debate if they should be deployed to Europe, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or anywhere else they are called to serve. They do what is needed to serve their country and they are proud to do it!

Clausewitz and other strategists have emphasized the critical importance of the "will of the people" before undertaking military action. In time of crisis, like an attack on Pearl Harbor or the Twin Towers, the will of the people typically favors a call to action, which could be a military action or war. Americans, however, are very impatient. We are a people with a short memory and a propensity to get results and move on. Consequently, the will of the people wanes quickly. As retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, former commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, is fond of saying, "In Afghanistan, Americans have all the wrist watches but Afghans have all the time." The enemy will attempt to control the clock with the strategic intent of winning, by not losing. He will use the clock to wear down American resolve. The global media in this information age also plays an important part of influencing the "will of the people".

As the "will of the people" wanes, the decision to go to war is often called to task and veterans get drawn into the discussion even though going to war was not their decision. This brings to mind a quote by John Stuart Mills, English economist & philosopher (1806 - 1873) that I like because it puts things in perspective. He said, "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

You, the veteran, are the "better men" and women who protect us and our freedoms. Father Denis Edward O'Brien, USMC said it very well in his poem.

It is the soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.

It is the soldier,
Who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protestor to burn the flag.

Since the founding days of our nation, we have called upon our finest people and asked them to place our interest before their own at great personal sacrifice. Today, we do the same. In spite of the risks involved, our nation's Armed Forces are the best in the world. Each Veteran should be regarded as a special person who, knowing that fate may call for an ultimate sacrifice, still chooses to protect us.

One final thought: If you are reading this and are not a veteran please remember the words of George Washington, "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were Treated and Appreciated by their Nation."

Take the time to Thank a Veteran - they deserve it!