ASCF Report | 7.3.13
By Alan W. Dowd
At the heart of the American
Security Council Foundation’s Step Up America program
is a recognition that the men and women who serve in law enforcement and the
military need the public’s support now more than ever. Toward that end, the
Step Up America program aims to “educate and provide students, families and
communities with the knowledge and tools they need to guard against national,
homeland and cyber-security threats, while valuing and respecting the role our
military, law enforcement and first responders play in protecting the nation.”
That’s an ambitious goal—and
a worthy one. Let’s unpack it by focusing on three key words in the Step Up
Regardless of the
causes—the fraying of the family, the downplaying of what Reagan called“civic ritual,” the rise of moral relativism—the American people need to be
reminded of some core truths about their country.
First, we are
blessed to live in America. The stuff we take for granted—consensus-based
government, economic opportunity, the rule of law, individual rights, equality
before the law, majority rule with minority rights, freedom of movement and
conscience and speech, civilian control over the military and over law
enforcement, clean water, dependable electricity—is the exception rather than
the norm in this broken world. Only 43
percent of the people on earth live in a free country. Only 13 percent live
in a developed, industrialized democracy. Only 4 percent live in America.
is a special country. Millions have made their way here from other lands because,
as Reagan explained, “America is freedom.” (The preceding paragraph captures some
of the byproducts of that freedom.) When
they arrive, these Americans-in-the-making find a culture eager to graft in the
new and the different—a nation where a refugee from Czechoslovakia could be
entrusted to oversee U.S. foreign policy as secretary of state, where an Afghan
immigrant could represent U.S. interests in Kabul or Baghdad (or both), where a
Cuban or Taiwanese immigrant could grow up to serve in the president’s cabinet,
where the son of a Turkish diplomat could grow up to run America’s most
ubiquitous company (Coke), where a kid can start out as the son of a Soviet army officer, survive the
Nazis, flee from the Red Army and become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Of course, there’s another
reason America is special: Millions of Americans have journeyed to other lands
to defend freedom. When the guns fall silent, Americans leave behind
constitutions guaranteeing free government, equal rights, free speech and
That brings us to a third
core truth about which some Americans need to be educated: The natural order of
this world is not orderly—and is certainly not conducive to freedom. The
blessings of freedom—indeed, freedom itself—must be defended. “Freedom is special and
rare,” as Reagan put it. “It’s fragile; it needs protection.”
The hard work of protecting freedom
is carried out by people in uniform, which explains why the Stand Up America
program helps Americans draw a connection between law enforcement and the
military. One group wears a flag on their shoulder, the other a badge on their
chest. One group defends our freedom on faraway shores, the other on nearby
city streets. They rush toward danger—whether it’s a
burning building or a broken country, terrorist hideouts in Boston or Abbottabad,
killer storms or brutal tyrants—while the rest of us run away from danger.
late John Keegan argued in his History of
Warfare that “All civilizations owe their origins to the warrior.” But more
than that, all civilizations owe their preservation to the warrior. This is
especially true of our civilization. We dare not think about it, but the line
separating us, protecting us, guarding us from another dark age is terrifyingly
How thin? America’s active-duty military comprises just 1.4
million personnel—that’s less than 0.5 percent of the population.
“If anyone thinks you can somehow thank them for their
service and not support the cause for which they fight—America’s survival—then
these people are lying to themselves and rationalizing away something in their
own lives, but more importantly they are slighting our warriors and mocking
their commitment to this nation,” as Gen. John Kelly (USMC) explainedin 2010. “It’s not Bush’s war. It’s not Obama’s war. It’s our war and we can’t
run away from it.”
Kelly knows well the price of preserving our civilization. He spoke those words
just days after his son was killed in Afghanistan.
The veneer protecting us from the bad guys here at home is just
as thin: There are an estimated 800,000 police officers in America. That “thin
blue line,” as it has been called, is what stands between danger and safety,
order and chaos. Too many Americans
forget or take for granted that freedom without law, without some infrastructure
of order, can quickly descend into license and then into anarchy. Those 800,000
police officers represent the rule of law. As so many of their badges remind
us, they protect and serve the law-abiding public from those who show contempt
for society by breaking the laws of society.
Likewise, those 1.4 million
warriors who wear our nation’s uniform protect us and our interests and our way
of life by keeping watch over our enemies, keeping our allies secure, keeping
the skies and sea lanes open, and keeping the anarchy and violence so
commonplace in other parts of the world at arm’s length.
our defenders overseas and protectors at home merely placed themselves in
harm’s way day after day—as they do—they would deserve our respect. The fact
that they place themselves in harm’s way so that the rest of us might live in
peace and safety and comfort and security should elicit more than our respect.
What first-responders, law enforcement and military personnel do is nothing
short of awe-inspiring.
So, how can
everyday Americans show respect for this special group of public servants? Put
another way, how can we step up for these American heroes?
can step up for America by supporting the troops and their families while
deployed; supporting the crucial mission they are executing, as Gen. Kelly
reminded us; and welcoming the troops as they return home. The opportunities
are literally all around us. Groups like the American Legion, USO, VFWand others are eager to connect Americans with the heroes who protect us.
We can step up for America by
hiring veterans—and by providing incentives to hire veterans. The unemployment
rate among recent veterans is much higherthan the general-population unemployment rate. Wal-Martis setting a good example, taking the initiative to hire more than 100,000
veterans in the next five years.
We can step up for America by comforting the wounded. Lincoln’s counsel of 1865
remains just as true today. We must “care for him who shall have
borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” And we must remember
that in the 21st century, the battle is sometimes borne by cops on the beat, as
the Boston Marathon bombings and manhunt remind us.
We can step up for America by
supporting government officials, policies and candidates committed to
protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty.
And we can step up for America by promoting and teaching American
exceptionalism. “We’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s
important,” Reagan advised, warning that “an eradication of the American
memory” could lead to “an erosion of the American spirit.”
A quarter-century later—as schools teach about
the fads and irrelevancies of the present rather than the enduring truths of
the past, as parts of the country balkanize into ethno-national fragments, as
political leaders struggle to grasp American
, as pundits consign America to the downward slope of
decline—we know Reagan’s prognosis was accurate. And we know it’s time for us
to step up.*Dowd is a senior fellow with the American Security Council Foundation, where he writes The Dowd Report, a monthly review of international events and their impact on U.S. national security.