The Goaded Society:
Why is there so much fervor in our society today? Where is it coming from? Why does our society seem to be so easily goaded these days? How should we as a people behave, respond and act positively in this storm?
These questions formed the base for my address today at the Rotary Club of W Austin. http://www.westaustinrotary.org/
My thanks to club president Angela Smith, as well as Mr Howard Brunson, and Patton H Caldwell, Sigma Chi’s classes 1952/54 UT Austin for inviting and allowing me to make a few lunchtime remarks.
Original Title – “Brotherhood, Conflict & Our Journey Together” updated to “The Goaded Society”
A transcript of my remarks follows:
[Worthy professionals, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to offer a few brief remarks. It is truly an honor, no doubt an honor to which but few attain, to be here among such remarkable men and women with such a wide variety of wisdom and talent. As part of a group of more than a million people throughout 165 countries, your positive reach cannot be overstated and I applaud you. Allie, my dear wife teaches 4th grade nearby and we both appreciate your work toward assisting first generation American children in their early schooling.
I promise to keep my remarks today slightly longer than a Tweet from our commander in chief, but perhaps not generating nearly as much of an outcry.
Seeing each of you seated here and listening to you, I am reminded of the words spoken by President TR Roosevelt in a speech he delivered in Chicago in 1899- he spoke to each of us when– he said–
“If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen slothful ease, and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests that men must win at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by and win for themselves the domination of the world.”
Now, my friends, you do NOT sit Idly by, nor have you. I know this because not one of you went to College simply to get a J-O-B. No, instead you went to college to EARN A DEGREE so you could enjoy a Career. And none of you chose to join the West Austin Rotary Club simply for the Social Benefits. You did it because you hold dear and sacred the founding fathers principles of our nation’s virtue. In short, YOU were CALLED to be a Rotary member in much the same way a man of the clergy is called to God. To these beliefs I know you ALL HOLD SACRED.
So the aim of these remarks today will be SIMPLE, SHORT and STRAIGHTFORWARD. To remind you of the CHARGE by which we all adore and to Re-kindle your love of our patriotic virtue.
Please allow me to use a PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE approach to our thinking today–
Many of you in this room have likely experienced combat on foreign soil. Each of you has your own unique story to tell as well. How many veteran Rotary members do I have here with me today?
–Mine begins in Desert Storm in 1991—
At the age of 25 and barely past my undergraduate days on campus. I found myself a 1st Lieutenant and assigned as an Army Assault Fire Platoon Leader. My team was launched out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Somehow, suddenly we were standing in the Wadi Al Batin in Northern Saudi Arabia, waiting for the word ‘Go’. This was the transition between Desert Shield and Storm.
We just all kinda figured this was it. Our nation hadn’t bowed up to anyone this big in a long time. The Air, Land, Battle Doctrine hadn’t been tested and the Iraqi army was tried and tested and they weren’t showing any sign of backing down. The enemy played by different rules than us when it came to chemical warfare. Not to mention, our own Patriot Missiles systems hadn’t really ever succeeded in shooting down a SCUD missile. So, we all suspected and accepted this whole affair would get real ugly, real fast.
In fact, my prayers from the middle of the night and seven thousand miles from home centered on my feelings toward my unborn son. I just wanted to live long enough to know he was born healthy and that I’d have a legacy to carry on my family name.
You see, the initial volley of SCUD missiles was estimated to be in the hundreds and by our best guesses, we would probably hit only a few of them, but many, loaded with Mustard Gas, the same gas they used on their own people before, would rain down upon us and we’d vaporize by dawn.
As an Air Defense Artillery officer, I had an airfield near King Khalid Military City to defend. We just wanted to take out a few of those bastards before we went. Death was imminent. We accepted it and we all held fast to our positions.
My son wasn’t born before the initial major air campaign began on January 17, 1991. So, I was just going to have to trust God, because this was by far the biggest thing I had been a part of to date, and in fact, despite other deployments later in life, this would be the biggest.
Our bombers and fighters raced overhead as they headed north to engage enemy command and communication nodes and other key infrastructure of military value. We held our breath and waited, fingers on the trigger, for the Iraqi counter-attack.
I wore an earpiece under my headset tuned into CNN. I also listened to my platoon and fire direction center instructions. The counter attack came. It was utter chaos. “SCUD” launch, “FIRE!”, “MISSILE AWAY”, “MISSILE AWAY”, “SCUD, SCUD, SCUD”, MISSILE AWAY” “CEASE FIRE”, “CEASE FIRE”, “CEASE FIRE”. The words shouted across the communications net were frantic as targets were acquired and engaged. All in all our elements achieved a 100% kill rate on that first night. My fingernails nearly had nearly flown off from the adrenaline rushing through my veins.
The euphoria was beyond measure. Our technology, our training, our COURAGE had paid off. We had won the first major battle for our nation on that night and we knew from this point forward the momentum would all be to our advantage.
I decoded a radio message about twenty days later on February 13th. This is how I learned my son had been born a healthy young baby. My life was never more complete.
This first combat experience would serve as my own personal witnessing of the Cross, much the same as I imagine Constantine.
on to Kosovo–
Several years later, I found myself a young major and stationed in the yet-to-be country of Kosovo. There, 37 nations under a United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) intervened to drive a wedge between Albanian and Serbian genocide. We were on Peace Enforcement duties.
One day in a small village a colleague and I found ourselves walking on a busy street and approaching a large crowd. The crowd was loud and angry and circled around two men who were obviously bent on killing one another. One man held a hatchet and the other a large screw driver. They had taken turns hacking and stabbing one another. Neither man seemed eager to back down. The crowd only fueled their rage. Out of morbid curiosity, my friend and I approached to get a better look. It was then, one of the men in the crowd noticed us. He pointed and yelled in our direction. Members of the crowd began to take notice of our approach, and suddenly, without warning, they fled in every direction and the two wounded men were helped away by their comrades.
On the drive back to our base, my friend and I remarked at how lucky we were that the crowd chose to disperse as opposed to turn on us. We were just two men armed with only our pistols. We could have been easily over-run by this mob. It was only by the grace of God that our lives had been spared.
Why had the crowd dispersed, we asked ourselves? Well, it was quite obvious that in this part of the world, the US Soldier was recognized as the Sole Source of Legitimate Authority. We were the symbol of INTEGRITY to these poor people. It was as though we were the Teacher and they had all been caught smoking cigarettes in the boys’ room. We were not only bringing order-to-chaos, but were respected for our culture. They needed us, therefore they respected us. And, our nation’s reputation had preceded us by the actions of my brothers and sisters in arms to date on their soil.
You see, in their want-to-be country, whenever you asked a child what they wanted to be when they grew up, the answer would inevitably be, “An American”. They didn’t have a ‘Kosovo Dream’, they had our American Dream. They had all but given up hope that their nation too could be as bountiful, as open minded and as free as ours. They only wanted to escape. It was our job to bring their thinking around to believing their nation could be as great as ours. We were there to bring hope.
Ironically, it was right here in Austin, at the University of Texas, 17 years ago, in a speech delivered by the US Ambassador to South Africa, James A. Joseph, I first heard about the three great strengths of our nation. These are our Military strength, our Economic strength and our MORAL STRENGTH. Our moral strength, he exclaimed, is our most powerful. It is the ideal of what we stand for and what we believe. It is embedded in our nation’s founding documents. It is either reinforced or tarnished by our individual and national actions abroad. This to me was great WISDOM.
I had learned upon approaching that angry mob in Kosovo that our moral strength reached these great distant people.
My most recent adventure abroad was in Iraq. There, I traversed to and from Basra, Southern Iraq, to include Um Qasr and Tallil and up to Baghdad. As the lead planner for the US Division providing Mission Command to the southern half of Iraq, it was our job to plan for our departure. You all see how that turned out.
In order to leave Iraq, we must first trust and hand over the delicate and tough duties of security to the Iraqi forces. These included their military, police, border patrol, etc. During the course of these duties, I had to interact numerous times with chiefs of police and other security members in Iraq. I can tell you these are truly some of the bravest men I have ever encountered. I was coming home. They had to remain in this hell. I knew my family was safe back in the US. They had their families hidden; sequestered from public view. I figured I would most likely die of old age. They knew they’d most likely die in a hail of bullets at any moment.
Yet, these men, chose to continue to do their jobs. To test incredible odds and work to make their country a safer place for their children and their communities. They shared the same hopes as Muslim men as I did as a Christian. They knew I was Christian, I in turn knew they were Muslim. We respected one another’s beliefs and we found common ground. We discovered we had more in common than different.
It was in Iraq, that I fully appreciated the differences in Temperaments, Talents and Convictions that together make a lasting resolution possible. They knew we would eventually leave them and they alone would be left to deal with the fall out. In hind-site, I wish we would have done more to insure lasting stability. I wish we would have never left a vacuum for ISIS to gain power.
And, that brings us to the present.
Today’s current fervor brought on by our domestic political environment should give rise for high-minded men and women to be more CONGENIAL in their discourse with others. Now, is a great opportunity to remind ourselves it is more important to Understand than it is to be Understood.
From the vantage point of my foxhole an Inflection Point seems imminent. The tightening of our military budget and reductions in manpower over the past several years have left us critically vulnerable to both peer and non-peer competitors abroad. There is no shortage of adversaries; ISIS, Russia, China, N. Korea, and Iran to name a few. Additionally, the need to ‘re-tool’ ourselves to be more Cyber centric and Less Kinetic in order to evolve defense mechanisms that over-match and out-pace any threat does not go unnoticed by our own military leadership or that of our adversaries. I’m frequently in DC advocating for greater appropriations to regain an advantaged position of Readiness.
So in our discourse with one another, now is a great time to be COURTEOUS. Now, is a perfect time to reaffirm that if we want to be persuasive, if our aim is to influence another man’s opinion, then we must refrain from be insulting or worse yet, hostile in our communication. This of course includes all use of Social Media. We know, to act otherwise would be un-professional, non-gentlemen, non-gentlewoman like and would do more to erode our position on any topic than to advance it.
Certainly, I should hope, our political views in this room differ sharply. After-all we are an enlightened bunch and bound to disagree on any number of contemporary topics.
However, I would like us to agree on this. Several friends have recently returned from trips abroad. Each were asked on their journeys about their thoughts on our new President at almost every stop. I am proud of their responses to questions and challenges focused on the INTEGRITY of our nation. My friends exercised SELF-CONTROL, for they know nothing would be gained by ‘bashing’ or ‘running down’ the office of our Presidency to people from another country. To their surprise, whenever they stood up for our President, –my favorite response being “I think he’s pretty much a bad ass”,– it would draw a smile from the foreign acquaintance who would generally tend to agree with that assessment.
The point here is that it would not do anything to help end world hunger, or make drinking water cleaner, or provide any more education for any child in the world simply by disgracing the office of our Commander in Chief. And, please, don’t take this as any kind of endorsement or paid political announcement. Your political views are none of my business and I chose a profession which ensures we all retain that freedom of opinion. I am only saying what we in our community already know, that a professional who conducts his or her work with virtue would not sacrifice his or her FIDELITY. Each of us know our opinion and the opinion of our community loses value when delivered in a negative or insulting way.
And finally onto my favorite topic, the future…
and you cannot talk about the future without first bringing up the past… The Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648, a mere 368 years ago. From it rose the concept of politically sovereign states. From this also came our international laws allowing every nation to control its own geographic territory for domestic affairs and be held accountable for its international affairs. The founding of the Rotary Club of West Austin was more than 60 years ago in June of 1953.
Perpetuating our Values and Virtues as individual professionals cannot fail, even if the nation state perishes. Although difficult to imagine what the world we live in today will resemble in another 60 years, the future construct certainly requires HIGH AMBITION.
In another speech delivered by Ambassador Joseph last April at Cornell University he articulated this point well by stating:
“This search for the ordinary, the romanticizing of ordinariness, provides a grave threat to our ability to cope with the complexities of living between two worlds; an old order that is dying but not yet dead and a new order that is conceived but not yet fully born. All around us we see the trauma of transition.” End quote…
Through this trauma of transition, it will be the steadfast adherence to righteous actions of men and women, like you, who carry the Values and Virtues of this Transnational Institution who will ultimately transcend the nation state.
My friends, I feel closer to God in your presence. We must endeavor to continue to lift up those around us. Everyone we touch should be better through our interaction. The time is now to rejuvenate your commitment to our community. The world thirsts for your leadership and what you represent as individual professionals. The masses need not have privy to your individual beliefs before benefiting from your united example.
In Closing, It has been said many times that the US remains the most galvanizing positive force on our planet. You, my friends, are an intimate part of that almighty force. My friends, my brothers and sisters, being members of this esteemed organization let your virtues continue to radiate through your good deeds.
Thank you for allowing me to share a few a minutes with you today. God Bless you, the Great State of Texas and our Nation.]