A MISSION FOR VETERANS AND ALL AMERICANS THIS VETERANS DAY
By Fred Wellman, Lincoln Project Senior Advisor
Seventy veterans and current service members are facing jail time for their participation in the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol last January 6th. According to CNN’s analysis, more than one in ten of all the defendants charged to date have served in the military, where less than one in seven Americans are veterans. This disproportionate number should serve as a wake-up call to every American and cannot be ignored as we honor the service of the approximately 18 million living veterans this November 11th. It should also remind us that we, as a nation, face a pivotal moment in our nation’s history.
It’s hard to believe that just one year ago on Veteran’s Day we were reveling in the afterglow of a hard-fought national campaign that found Donald Trump leaving office after four years of chaos and political insanity. At that point hundreds of thousands of Americans were dead from the rampaging COVID pandemic. A summer of the largest civil rights demonstrations in our nation’s history had been met with violence right in front of the White House, and our political landscape had never seemed so divided. We looked forward with hope to a return of decency to the seat of government.
That hope was snuffed out as rioting followers of Donald Trump beat police, broke down the doors, and invaded our Capitol to stop the certification of his election loss. We would find out the next day that the one protestor killed by police defenders was an Air Force veteran and, on the other side of the fight, another Air Force veteran was lost, officer Brian Sicknick. You could not imagine a clearer painting of the stark divide we face as a nation and as a veteran community.
Each service member who joins the military swears an oath – not to the President, or any person at all. The oath is sworn to the Constitution. It’s simple:
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
Never in our lifetimes did most of us who served ever believe that the domestic enemy’s portion of that pledge would be a real possibility, and I’m not sure any more of us ever dreamed it may be fellow veterans in their ranks. The efforts by Donald Trump, the GOP, media collaborators, and their supporters to divide our nation and roll back the democratic values that are the bedrock of our Republic infected every aspect of our national psyche and continue unabated, including in our veteran community.
As we honor veterans this year let’s also remember what it is they swore to defend. Remember that our higher calling of service is to the entire nation and not a political party or movement. Remember that we have never had a military coup and the apolitical military is a foundation of our Constitutional republic.
As veterans and service members, let’s remind ourselves of the same. The oath we swear doesn’t offer caveats or ‘unless’ clauses. Its simplicity marks a clarity that we must remember long after we serve. Malign political forces are at work to subvert our loyalty to the nation for their own ends. We cannot fall into the trap of turning on each other or allowing ourselves to fall prey to the manipulations of those who wish our country harm.
There is hope. The overwhelming majority of veterans remember the values they volunteered to defend. They honor the oath and believe that a peaceful transition of power and subordination of military power to civilian control is essential to our nation. The majority are horrified by the violence of January 6th and the involvement of so many of our fellow veterans. Many of the participants themselves have realized how far they strayed from our values and are expressing remorse and accepting the consequences of their actions.
Even as all these criminal cases have unfolded recently, thousands of Afghanistan veterans and their partners are working feverishly to help our allies who served by our side in America’s longest war. They are on computers, organizing donations, sponsoring families and lobbying our government to aid our noble brothers and sisters who sacrificed. They are honoring their service and their oath often quietly, without fanfare, without recognition.
Veterans Day is a time to honor all of those who have served the nation honorably. We will march in parades, hold ceremonies at memorials, and wish them thanks for their service. Companies will roll out discounts and free items for the 7% who wore the uniform. This year we must also have hard conversations about what we fought for and the country we want to leave our children.
The task we face this year will take all Americans. We are in a fight for our nation’s future. Will we ensure that every American has the right to vote, the right to health, the right to love whom they choose, and to educate their children without filters and propaganda? Will we allow violence to continue as part of the political environment? Will we allow our democracy to end with a whimper and vague promises of low taxes and scare tactics?
These are the issues we are facing as the midterm elections approach in less than one year. Our veterans and their families will be front and center in this fight. Dozens of them have already stepped up to run for office. Thousands are helping fellow Americans. As veterans let’s lead by example and take the nation off the precipice. As Americans, let’s honor their oaths to the Constitution and move our nation forward peacefully. Vote, and ensure our children inherit the freedom and prosperity they deserve.
Fred Wellman is a 22-year Army veteran with multiple combat tours in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom as an aviator and public affairs officer. He serves as a Senior Advisor to the Lincoln Project as well as political campaigns and organizations.