As we pause this week to remember the sacrifices made by American veterans stretching back for decades, it seems appropriate to do more than honor them with parades and tribute ceremonies. Perhaps the best way to really honor the men and women who have served to defend our country and maintain our freedoms is to learn from them.
I don’t think it is coincidental that Veterans Day falls immediately after election day. Following the intense partisan struggles, it is a great blessing that we are offered an opportunity to step back and reflect on all we have in common as Americans. Here again, we can take a lesson from the very veterans we celebrate.
Anyone who has served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard (or any of their respective Guard or Reserve components) can tell you that a single-minded focus on mission alleviates any division based on political allegiances. Most servicemen and women are passionate about wanting what is best for the nation, but their party affiliation is seldom a focus of their advocacy or conversations.
Instead, from the first day of basic training, military officers and recruits are admonished to pursue “unit cohesion.” Military units are made up of men and women from around the United States—reflecting a host of accents, regional perspectives, races and ethnicities, and sports team allegiances—but they quickly learn that they must learn to ignore differences (or better yet, recognize them as a diversity of strengths) and work together as a team. The greatest military leaders have been able to inspire that level of interpersonal commitment and single-minded focus.
All this should be instructive to us as Americans and as Kentuckians. We face a host of challenges—both internal and external. And, although our parties approach these challenges with diametrically opposed perspectives and solutions, there is wisdom in pursuing the kind of consensus solutions that all can support. Obviously, this has not been the pattern of recent years.
The comic strip character Pogo once observed, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” That is only true if we perceive fellow Americans and Kentuckians as enemies to be vanquished instead of fellow citizens to live and work with. That hyper-partisan perspective will inevitably lead to destructive infighting.
There will be other political campaigns and the principles and values that each party resonates will compete for endorsement and votes. But this week, let’s honor our veterans by determining to learn from the great host of them who have served (and continue to serve) us so honorably. As Kentuckians we know that “United We Stand;” let’s practice the kind of “unit cohesion” modeled by the military. Let’s also remember the unity reflected in the pledge every veteran and most of us have recited repeatedly over the years:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”