You may have noticed that I haven't posted a blog in a while. As hard as it may be for those who know me to believe, occassionally I do run short on things to say. But then something always pops up...
Today I was notified of an opinion piece about thegratitudecampaign published in several news papers, including The Christian Science Monitor, by a freelance writer and college professor named David McGrath. Mr. McGrath, it seems, takes issue with our campaign because he beleives that it glorifies war, and he is particularly concerned about how that influences our children.
You can find Mr. McGrath's piece here: http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2010/0816/Support-our-troops-Not-with-an-empty-gesture
In response to Mr. McGrath's article, I have offered to The Christian Science Monitor the following letter:
I read your piece on your decision not to participate in thegratitudecampaign. First and foremost, I would like to acknowledge your right to your own opinion, and your freedom under the Constitution to express that opinion; a freedom that has been defended by those who serve for over two hundred years. So, with regard to your exercising your freedoms, I applaud you.
Having said that, I am struck by the fact that in addition to being a freelance writer, you are also a professor. I have attended three colleges and one university, and if there was one thing that my professors impressed upon me with regard to anything that I wrote, it was that I did the appropriate research prior to making an assertion. Even in matters of opinion, they said, only informed opinions can stand up to scrutiny. While I respect your right to your own opinion, and I take no issue with you choosing not to participate in thegratitudecampaign, I do wonder if the opinion that you have published here for the world to see was an informed one.
If I understand your argument correctly, you seem to be taking issue with two things: The glorification of war, and the affect that that has on our children.
First, to the glorification of war: I wonder if, prior to forming and publishing your opinion, you took the time to read the materials available on our web site along with the video that you take issue with. Did you, for instance, read the FAQ/Comments page of our web site on which we discuss that this campaign is about gratitude for service – not for war. Or that a large percentage of our active service personnel and our Veterans have never served in a combat zone, or fired a weapon in anger. Or that this campaign is just the first step in helping civilians to engage and understand our service members so that they will be more likely to support them in additional, more tangible ways. Or that, contrary to public opinion, it is possible to support our Troops and support Peace -- in fact we support Peace because we support our Troops. Or that our campaign is not about the war in Iraq, or in Afghanistan. Rather, it is about showing gratitude for service to our fellow man. Or that war itself – killing and dying for a cause – is a failure on our part as human beings to resolve our disputes through more civilized means, and that we as civilians bear the responsibility for preventing future wars.
Did you read our blogs on the psychology of gratitude, and giving power to the positive? Or on the dangers of hero worship, and of overcorrecting? Did you read any of that, and consider it before forming your opinion? For that matter, did you notice that there is not a single image in our video of combat or violence of any kind? Did you notice that there isn’t even a single weapon shown in our video? I am a fairly objective and reasonable man, Mr. McGrath, but I am hard pressed to find anything in our video or associated in any way with our campaign that glorifies war. To the contrary, we make it abundantly clear that we see war as failure.
With regard to influencing our children, first, I’m not sure that I agree with you that children are incapable of distinguishing between showing gratitude for service, and glorifying war. As parents, and as a society, we have a responsibility to teach our children our shared beliefs and values. And, while it may be true that they may not yet fully comprehend all aspects of one of our values or how it plays a part in how we interact with one another as human beings that does not mean that the best solution is to simply choose not to teach it to them. When I was six years old I did not fully understand why it was so important to my parents that I say “please” and “thank you”, or that I chew with my mouth closed, or that I not interrupt people in mid-sentence. Fortunately, the human mind does not stop developing at age six. I learned those lessons, and as I got into my teens and early twenties, I learned to appreciate the “why” behind those lessons.
When I was twelve years old I asked my father – a retired Air Force Captain who specialized in electrical systems on nuclear missiles – how he felt about being such a warm, loving, peaceful man working on weapons that were capable of killing millions of people. He responded that the way he saw it, if he did his job really, really well, those missiles would never be fired. Even as a twelve year old, I understood what he was saying. And to this day the missiles he worked on have never been fired. And many have been or are being dismantled.
Admittedly, the concepts that someone could choose to serve and themselves not believe that war is glorious, or of civilians being able to support Peace and still support our Troops, or of separating our gratitude for the warrior from our distaste of the war are challenging – even for many adults. But just because they’re challenging concepts doesn’t mean we should avoid them. To the contrary, avoiding them may be the very thing that allows war to continue. And, ironically, it may just be that our children are more capable of understanding them than we are, as they have not yet been socialized to believe that service and peace are incompatible.
In conclusion, Mr. McGrath, I share your concern about our society glorifying war, and especially in the eyes of our children. But if we’re going to do something about society teaching our children to glorify war, it seems to me that we should be much more concerned about the literally millions of simulated killings that our children see on television and in the movies, and even participate in through war-themed video games than about a campaign that encourages peace, responsibility, and gratitude for service to your fellow man. Of course, you have the right to disagree.