Wednesday, November 28, 2018

War and Peace

War and Peace

by Ted Miller
(originally published in Tumbleweird December 2018)

One hundred years ago we fought the “war to end all wars.” The war was devastating. Over ten million people died and many times that number were injured in what was then known as the Great War. New weapons like poison gas, tanks, and aircraft made killing more efficient than ever before. The horrors of that war were so grim that many thought mankind would never go to war again. 

This sentiment was summarized by H.G. Wells in The Daily Newson August 14, 1914 when he wrote:

“This is already the vastest war in history. It is a war not of nations, but of mankind. It is war to exorcise the world-madness and end an age… For this is now a war for peace. It aims straight at disarmament. It aims at a settlement that shall stop this sort of thing for ever. Every soldier who fights against Germany now is a crusader against war. This, the greatest of all wars, is not just another war—it is the last war!”

How wrong we were. The war that ended on Armistice Day a century ago was just another in the long history of wars among men. We even had to rename the Great War when just a few decades later we were in the midst of World War II.

I have always felt that a strong military promotes peace by acting as a deterrent to war. As a submarine officer on patrol carrying nuclear ballistic missiles, I believed that if we ever had to carry out the orders we were trained to execute, it would mean our mission of deterrence had been an utter failure. Success was the avoidance of nuclear war. Success meant peace. Success was met through strength.

As I was preparing to commemorate the centennial of the World War I armistice at the Bells for Peace gathering on November 11, I reflected on my thirty-year career in the military and my thoughts on war and peace. Did military strength really ensure a lasting peace? That certainly hasn’t been the case in my lifetime. I realized that the horrors of war do not alone lead to a lasting desire for peace. 

Hundreds of millions of people have died as a direct result of war in the last century. Hundreds of millions more have been displaced. Today, the wars in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iraq continue to destabilize the world. Armed conflict is ongoing in Africa, Mexico, Asia, and Eastern Europe. And the United States is at least partially involved in every one of them.

We are currently fighting the longest war in U.S. history. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, we invaded Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda and have been at war in that country ever since. 
We have become so inured to the war in Afghanistan that it barely makes the news. We celebrate our veterans, but forget the fact that we are still at war. Fewer and fewer Americans serve in the military and the majority of us are insulated from the reality of war. 

War is expensive, not only in lives, but in dollars. The wars in the Middle East have cost U.S. taxpayers $5.9 trillion since 2001.[i]Those costs will continue to grow well in to the future as we care for veterans and pay for ongoing obligations in the region. 

Is the cost of war really worth it? If the goal of war is indeed peace, perhaps there are other ways to achieve it. 

I know that peace isn’t easy. I know that evil exists in the world and that we must protect ourselves from those who would do us harm. I agree that we should be ready to use our military strength to defend our allies and ensure stability in the trouble spots of the world. But I also think that we can use our strengths and resources to combat the things that lead to war. 

Poverty, hunger, social injustice, and a lack of education tend to lead to civil unrest that spills over into violence and war. War, in turn, leads to more human suffering. Breaking the cycle can reduce the tendency towards war and help usher in an era of peace.

We should be promoting peace through humanitarian efforts backed up by our economic, diplomatic, and military strength. Our resources can be better spent helping others instead of funding the military industrial complex for an endless cycle of war. I’m not anti-military, I’m pro-peace.

We need a strong diplomatic corps to promote peaceful solutions. We need to work with our allies to resolve conflicts. War should be a last resort. 

On November 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation to commemorate the first Armistice Day with these words:

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

If only we could promote peace and justice around the world without going to war to do so.

[i]“Costs of War,” Neta C. Crawford, Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, Brown University, November 14, 2018.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Taking a Knee is Not Disrespectful

Taking a Knee is Not Disrespectful

by Ted Miller
(Originally published in Tumbleweird November 2018)

I am a veteran. My parents are both veterans. I graduated from the United States Naval Academy, swore an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States, and served thirty years defending my country. I am proud to be an American.

Members of the military are taught specific rules of respect for the symbols of our nation. We stand and salute when the flag is raised, lowered, or passes by with a color guard. We stand and salute whenever and wherever the National Anthem is played or sung. When driving on a military installation during morning or evening colors, drivers pull over to the side of the road and stop out of respect. 

We do these things as a sign of respect for our country because the flag and the anthem are symbols representing the ideals that bind us together as citizens. And those ideals are embodied in the Constitution. Not a person, not a party, not the President of the United States. Not a piece of red, white, and blue fabric. We show respect for an idea—an idea contained in a document that we swore to support and defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

And so, not standing, not paying attention, or ignoring the National Anthem can seem disrespectful. 

But people disrespect the flag and the anthem all the time. Many fans don’t bother to pause for the anthem while buying their beer, finding their seats, or making a last-minute dash to the restroom. The flag is used for commercial marketing, clothing (including bandanas and underwear), and countless ways contrary to the United States Flag Code (Title 4, U.S.C., Ch. 1). Where is the outcry over that?

In August 2016, Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, remained seated during the National Anthem. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he explained to Steve Wyche of NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” he said.

Shortly after Kaepernick’s initial protest, former Seahawks player Nate Boyer, also an Army Green Beret, reached out to Kaepernick. He suggested kneeling instead. "Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother's grave, you know, to show respect,” Boyer said on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. So Kaepernick began kneeling instead of staying seated.

The backlash began immediately and has continued ever since, with angry rhetoric on both sides. President Trump has said that any player who refuses to stand is a “son of a bitch” that should be fired. Fans are boycotting the NFL. Social media memes and arguments continue to flare up. When Nike made Colin Kaepernick their spokesman for a new campaign, people started burning their shoes in protest.

Some say that Colin Kaepernick should protest on his own time. They falsely accuse him of grandstanding instead of donating time and money for his cause. But the reality is that he has donated over a million dollars to charities that support oppressed communities. Many professional athletes have done the same and more. This year, basketball player LeBron James funded and partnered with his hometown of Akron, Ohio, to open a school specifically designed to overcome the challenges urban kids face.
But charity work to combat racism and police brutality has not gotten near the attention as Kaepernick’s simple, respectful protests. 

Systemic racism and police brutality are a real problem in this country. Black people are much more likely to be killed by police, are incarcerated at much higher rates than white people for the same crimes, and are all too often stopped or questioned by police with no probable cause[i]. We’ve all seen the viral videos of 911 calls on black people for doing nothing other than going about their business. 

It is disingenuous to claim that kneeling during the anthem is unpatriotic and disrespectful to veterans. To me, it is those claiming to speak for all veterans who are being disrespectful to those who fought and died to ensure Kaepernick’s right to protest.

Blind loyalty to the country, blind loyalty to symbols, and blind participation in patriotic displays isn’t patriotism. Coercing respect for a symbol is no respect at all. Respect must be earned, not demanded. We respect the United States and its symbols for what we as a nation aspire to be. That we can be a more perfect union with dignity, equality, freedom, and justice for all of our citizens. Taking a knee to call attention to how we’ve fallen short of those ideals is as American as it gets.

[i]Police shootings and brutality in the US: 9 things you should know,” edited by German Lopez,, September 11, 2018.