War veteran: Principles belong to people, not political parties | COMMENTARY
By Gabriel Gough
For The Baltimore Sun|
Nov 02, 2020 at 10:56 AM
As veterans, we were taught during our military training that if we find ourselves lost in battle, listen for the gunfire, then run toward it. For most civilians this is counterintuitive — deliberately putting yourself in harm’s way. Yet for service members, that’s where your brothers and sisters are, and they need help.
As veterans we understand what it means to serve others, to have an overriding purpose and mission that is greater than any one of us. We came together to serve from all over the country and the world, but we all raised our right hands and swore to defend the same Constitution. We came from different backgrounds, worshipped God in different ways and had different colors of skin, but we learned to see beyond all that. We learned to do so because the more time we spent with each other, the less those differences mattered. Those differences made us stronger. They made us better. For us, that is precisely what e pluribus unum means. Out of many, we became one.
We were taught the importance of honor and integrity and that the greatest trait a leader can possess is character. We were taught the importance of doing the harder right instead of the easier wrong. The harder right. We’re given that challenge because moral courage doesn’t come easy. To be morally courageous is to perpetually look at the paths we have before us and consistently choose the right path, especially when it’s difficult. It’s a challenge to our own integrity, to take the path we know to be right because it’s a matter of principle.
Principles don’t belong to a political party, they belong to us. The values and principles that were imprinted upon us in the military made us better leaders; leaders who have an obligation to instill those values and principles in others. We can teach others what it means to do the harder right because leadership is not about cutting corners and shunning responsibility. Leadership is about setting the example for others to make them want to be better themselves. That is what leadership is supposed to be.
Yet, for too long we have glorified those who believe leadership to be synonymous with swagger and bluster. They decry violence on the streets of America, yet by their own conduct have encouraged it. They purposefully exploit our differences so that we confront others not as fellow citizens, but as enemies to be subjugated and conquered. Using worn out slogans and obsolete dogmas they cling to a vision of America where our greatness resides in some distant past, not on the horizon before us. It is a sordid leadership, devoid of character, that sends us searching for scapegoats and conspiracies and only with a reckoning in our own hearts can we begin to cleanse this sickness from our souls. We must have the courage to admit that these are not the actions of a leader. This is not leadership.
Like the veterans of the World War II and Vietnam generations before us, our time to lead has come. Whether we’re coaching our children’s softball teams, working to better our communities or choosing to run for office ourselves, we can all play our part reminding others that we are more than our differences, that the greatness of our country cannot be built upon the shattered dreams of other human beings. The greatness of our country can only be built upon the character of its citizens. This goal, this common purpose, we can all work toward instilling in others. We are all uniquely qualified to begin helping heal the wounds of division that have been inflicted upon us to show that we are all brothers, sisters and countrymen in this great land of ours.
Like a freight train, history is barreling fast toward us; it will lay a heavy hand. If we choose to be mere spectators in the arena, then years from now when our grandchildren ask what we did at this moment in history, our inaction, our indifference will consume our souls. We’ll know we chose to look the other way when our consciences demanded otherwise.
The challenge we face is finding enough of us who have the courage to stand up and say, “Not on my watch.” So take a moment and listen to the world around you. If you can hear the sounds of gunfire in the not too far-off distance, then what are you waiting for? Can you fight?
Gabriel Gough (firstname.lastname@example.org) served as a special assistant and adviser to three secretaries of Veterans Affairs. He is a veteran of the war in Iraq where he was awarded a Bronze Star for Valor and holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.