Friday, July 3, 2009

Thoughts on July 4th

Tomorrow will be July 4th. In honor of that holiday, I wanted to give politics a rest for a day and share my reflection on what the day means.

All of us should take a moment this weekend and think about what a wonderful country we have. Most of us were fortunate enough to be born in the freest, most prosperous place in human country. We take for granted so many rights—freedom of speech, thought, and religion for example that many other people in other countries don’t have.

As the election of our first black President Barack Obama shows, we have come an awfully long way in redressing past injustices. Present economic difficulties notwithstanding, there is truly something special about our country. I am filled with pride as I think of all the veterans out there who sacrificed so much from Little Round Tope, to D-Day, to Fallujah for our ideals.

But what troubles me a little today is thinking how many of us—myself included from time to time—fail to appreciate what we have and fail to think about how we can give back. Perhaps the most obvious way to serve one’s country is in the military. Yet there is a growing chasm between America’s ruling class and the military.

Recently, I was reading 1960 by David Pietruza. In it, he detailed how John F. Kennedy used his connections in all sorts of ways. One of those ways was to get into the military despite his physical infirmities. But that changed during Vietnam when the upper classes used their connections to stay out of the military.

Today, there is of course no draft. And very few people from privileged backgrounds choose to enter the military at all. Joining the military in the first place is not something that is even encouraged for most of them. I’ve often wondered what would happen at High School graduations if we honored people going to the military as much as we honor kids going to Harvard and Yale.

The result has been that the very people who make decisions on national security have no experience in the military. They often have only a very limited understanding of the capabilities of the military, or what kind of situations they’re sending other peoples’ children into. They don’t know what it is to spend two years living on edge praying for their child’s safety. That is dangerous.

Whenever I have a conversation with a friend about the lack of wealthy kids going into the military they always point out that “there’s other ways to serve your country.” That’s undoubtedly true. But too often, the kids making that statement never have and never will do anything meaningful for their country. So that’s my challenge for you readers today. The military definitely isn’t for everyone. So if you’re planning to become a high-powered corporate lawyer, think about spending some of your time being a child advocate or public defender.

For those who want to do finance, think about how you can volunteer some time helping pensions funds for teachers or policemen. Think about how you can spend time providing financial education for underprivileged kids. Maybe think about spending a year as a math teacher and bringing your real-world experience into the classroom.

All of us who live in America are so blessed. It’s only fair that we try and give something back too.

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