Veterans Day: To Support and Defend

Written by: John Kenyon, Ch. Lt Col, USAF (ret.)

Veterans Day is observed to honor those who have served our country. As a member of the Armed Forces for many years, I know firsthand of their willingness to sacrifice for the common good of all. 

It is not uncommon that when people learn I’ve served in the military that I am thanked for my service. I cannot speak for all, but I can for most;  we appreciate the expression of thanks but for us it was a matter of duty. We swore an oath to support and defend the US Constitution that provides the foundations for the common good of the citizens of this nation. 

Yet there is a trend that I as a veteran find troubling. A recent conversation during a class I attended brought an interesting historical paradigm to my attention. It had to do with the limiting of free speech on many campuses today across America not only by university and college administrators but by the students themselves. In studying this issue, I can across an article written by a CNN reporter back in September of 2017. The article gave a report of protests at an American university where a conservative radio host had been asked by a student organization to speak. In the CNN article the following statement caught my eye:

“That event prompted questions about whether UC Berkeley, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s, could host different ideas, including conservative speakers, on its famously liberal campus.”

It is a fact the Free Speech Movement was birthed in the upheaval of the Vietnam War and in a large part to the opposition to that conflict. The numbered of military deaths that resulted in that conflict totaled over 58,000. Those individuals gave their lives so that others, on the UC Berkley campus, could speak out on the issues they believed were important. To illustrate this point, hear the words of Joseph Rogers, a combat veteran’s testimony before Congress:

 “As a veteran ultimately, my responsibility was to support and defend the protestors’ under the First Amendment to the Constitution to freely express their opinion, even if I disagreed with what they were saying.”

It is true there are many different aspects or ways of looking at the Free Speech Movement at this time in our nation but the bottom line was free speech. The ideas that fueled the Free Speech Movement now are the mainstream of many university and college campuses of our day. It would seem that the ability to speak and express one’s opinion of the issues of the day would be welcome. It seems this is not the case.  

In fact, in the aftermath of this conservative speaker’s presentation, a UC Berkeley notice sent to the student body reveals a point of extreme importance. The notice read, “We are deeply concerned about the impact some speakers may have on individuals’ sense of safety and belonging … no one should be made to feel threatened or harassed simply because of who they are or for what they believe.” Did you catch the words “individuals’ sense of safety and belonging” and “to feel threatened or harassed”? Realize this, no one should be threatened or harassed but the focus has shifted from a physical to an emotional issue, the ‘sense of’ or ‘to feel’. Let me put this in perspective.

We look today at the demonstrations going on in Hong Kong for the ability to have the freedoms you and I enjoy every day. We have military personnel stationed around the world standing guard and engaging the enemies of freedom. I am confident both of these groups do not have a ‘sense of safety and belonging’ and do ‘feel threatened’. Yet they go forward for the goal they seek is worth the price.

The First Amendment of the Constitution was put there by our founding fathers that freedom of speech would be guaranteed because it is so crucial to freedom itself. Why is the debate being driven to the level of the individuals’ ‘sense’ or ‘feel’? It is important not to lose focus here. The golden rule applies to “love your neighbor as yourself” and man created in the image of God requires respect. But allow me to share a quote from a well-known star trek movie, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” 

Is there a deeper reason for the shift to the individual over the group? Since in many ways it is a one-way mantra of thinking being presented within the halls of academia. Yet the veteran served not for the individual but for the common good. The veteran served that the Constitutional right of freedom of speech would not be limited. The best way to honor those who have served is to remember and do as they did, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. 

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