Tuesday Notes from the National Security Seminar
It shouldn’t have been a surprise to me, but it was. It’s the aura of respect infusing
everything that occurs at the US Army War College and the National Security
Seminar. It begins with the greeting of the officers at the security checkpoint and
never stops. It’s a jarring contrast to the vitriol of American political discourse.
The speakers and military students who have spent an academic year at the college
have mind-blowing credentials. They have excelled at levels of responsibility
that few of us even imagine. Yet they genuinely honor the perspectives of
civilians. “Engage!” is the Commandant’s command to us civilians.
- “What do we want the US role in the world to be?”
- “What kind of military do we need to fulfill that role?”
- “What are the strategic considerations of partnerships around the world?”
Most civilians have never considered these questions at any deeper level than
cocktail conversation. The viewpoints in the room range from conservative to
liberal, and opinions are strong and firm. But unlike in today’s popular media, no
one tries to shout down anyone else. Everyone’s voice is heard in large part because
we all come to understand that that these issues are far too complex with far too
many moving parts for quick-and-easy decisions.
Although the program is at the US Army War College, other branches of the service
are represented. There is friendly rivalry, but each respects the role of the other.
The Air Force bomber pilot who sees war from 35,000 feet respects the solider
whose boots are on the ground. The solider on the ground respects that there’s not
much support immediately at hand for a pilot shot out of the sky.
Military leaders understand at a deep level that they both serve and represent a
government whose commander in chief is a civilian. So it is important for them
to know what civilians think and what civilian instincts are, even in the absence
of detailed knowledge. They want civilians to know that military leaders obey
the chain of command, regardless of their own opinions and even their own best
judgment. Ultimately, America isn’t America without that kind of respect and order.
This perspective is missing from PA’s political leadership, who know what people
want from their government but refuse to do it. They fundamentally do not respect
ordinary citizens and create obstacles to citizen engagement in their government.
If our nation’s military operated in that way, we’d be in great trouble. Because our
commonwealth’s government does operate in that way, we are in great trouble.
Look at the Agenda the large majority of PA voters supports. Ask yourself whether
our political leadership gives us the kind of respect we deserve. Then ask yourself
what you’re going to do about it.