Tomorrow is Memorial Day, one of the most important days of the year both in Wallingford and everywhere in these United States. It is a day when we look outside our daily lives and local community to contemplate how it is that, generation after generation, so many Americans have given their very lives to not only protect our freedom, but also the freedom of millions upon millions of people around the planet.
If the United States of America is to continue to be the beacon of hope and freedom to much of the rest of the world, then it is important that each of us as individuals reflect on what it is to be a citizen of the country that so many millions yearn to be part of. Recognizing the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of fellow Americans with parades, speeches and the solemn laying of wreaths on memorials is an appropriate backdrop for taking stock not just of our good fortune, but also recognizing, as they most certainly did, that we have responsibilities as citizens of the only nation truly capable of keeping some of the world’s bad actors in check.
So here are two questions that have arisen as a result of recent events: First, are United States citizens at all aware of our responsibilities in world affairs? Secondly, are we raising a generation of citizens capable of carrying out those responsibilities?
First of all, many now ask: “What responsibilities?” In many respects, it would seem that our motto has devolved from “Peace Through Strength” to a Rodney King-esque “Cant We All Just Get Along?”
As the Russian strongman Putin walks all over the sovereign nation of Ukraine with complete impunity and the United States’ total response is to send the Ukraine military Meals Ready to Eat and to freeze the assets of a handful of Russian oligarchs, countries like Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania wonder if the United States will leave them just as defenseless. What lame excuse will we use to avoid upholding our NATO obligations when Putin turns his attention to them?
Unlike in the Ukraine, at least on paper we do have substantive, ironclad obligations to protect these countries. And that includes military protection, not just empty speechifying and impotent fist shaking. So our reaction is … to drastically reduce military preparedness? On Memorial Day, of all days, we should be thinking of the impact that will have on those willing to serve. Are we providing them with all the protection they deserve as we are forced into living up to our world obligations? Will these brave men and women be given the tools to match their commitment? Will we back them up with equipment that matches their professionalism?
And speaking of professionalism, let’s take up topic two: Are we raising a generation of citizens mature enough to carry out our world responsibilities? Recent events would give one pause as we read about how small groups of pampered, spoiled, indulged students were successful at intimidating feckless university administrators at Brandeis, Rutgers, Haverford and Smith into withdrawing invitations to leaders such as Condoleezza Rice and Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak at their commencement. Apparently, the brats could not stand to hear opinions with which they disagree, and so they Held Their Breath Until They Turned Blue and will get fed the vacuous, empty nonsense that they wish to hear. Congratulations, Class of 2014.
But, fortunately, we have those who wear the uniform of the United States military. I have had the great fortune to spend time on military installations, and all the despair for our country’s future by the antics of these college students disappears quickly when in the presence of the mature, intelligent, focused, respectful, tough, compassionate young men and women that populate the services.
Meet them, and you too will say, “Yes, we still do have ‘the right stuff’ befitting a great nation.”
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford Town Councilor.