J. D. Pendry
I saw some interesting numbers the other day.† *In 1975, 73 percent of our Senators and 70 percent of the House of Representatives were military veterans.† In 2003, itíll be 35 and 27 percent respectively.† Beginning the New Year in both houses of Congress, there will be a total of 33 combat veterans and 11 military retirees serving.
In 1975, a majority of our Senators and Representatives knew the meaning of serving our country in a military uniform.† By 1999, veterans in Congress made up minorities of 43 and 31 percent.† The percentages have continued a downward trend.† Looking at these numbers makes it easier to understand why issues important to serving military people and veterans are not always handled the way we want to see them handled.† Whatís more important about these numbers is that they are representative of our country.† In other words, as you see a decline in the percentages of veterans serving in Congress you should understand that they are also in decline across all of America.† Americans are disconnected from the military that serves and protects them and look to becoming more so.† Disconnected from the military also means being disconnected from the reasons for a military.
Iíve been fortunate to make the transition from one world to the other.† In my new world, I assure you that many have no concept of what it means to serve in uniform and most of them have no intention of finding out.† A short tour to the average American is a sightseeing day trip on a chartered bus.† To the average veteran, it conjures memories of 13 months of hell in a God forsaken jungle that no one ever heard of.† That is too bad.
Service is the greatest tool America has to develop the sense of what it takes to keep our country strong and instill the pride of ownership needed to preserve it.† In the face of our new challenges, itís more important than ever.† Some have mentioned that a military draft could solve the problem.† I donít agree with that.† We need to instill a sense of national service, or at least a sense of nation, in Americans.† All need to serve in come capacity, but a military draft is probably not the answer.† The problem however, is how does one convince a dot com millionaire or the son or daughter of a Fortune 500 CEO that itís important to serve in some way the country that enabled them to be where and what they are.† The answer to that question lies in learning about where our country came from to get where it is and the service required to keep it.
I heard a news report a few days ago.† Iím sure most of you heard it also.† High school students from several developed countries took a geography test.† The United States finished dead last.† The commentator I listened to said that some American students could not locate the United States on a world map.† Thatís a frightening assessment of our education system and more of the reason that Americans are disconnected.
Ah, but it gets worse.† I read another interesting article, ďWhy History?Ē, David McCullough, Readerís Digest, December 2002.† Mr. McCullough tells us:
ďWhile the popular culture races loudly on, the American past is slipping away.† We are losing our story, forgetting who we are and what itís taken to come this far.Ē
He also explained the reason this is happening.† **He tells us that a study conducted two years ago found that four out of five college seniors from our leading universities and colleges were unable to pass a basic high school history test.† In this test, more of them picked Ulysses S. Grant than George Washington as the American general at Yorktown.† He puts the nail in it by telling us that none of our Nationís top 50 colleges and universities require American history as part of the curriculum.
If this is what we find in our colleges and universities, one can just imagine whatís in the high schools.† This is where the great American disconnection starts. How do you convince a young person of the need for service, when he does not know the countryís history or the service and sacrifice that produced and protects it?
There are other signs of the disconnect.† Those who founded our country came here looking for ďAmericaĒ.† The name itself most closely represents freedom to those who want to be here but canít.† Nowadays, we find ourselves looking for everything except America, though.† We are in search of Asian America, African America, Irish America, Italian America, Mexican AmericaÖ and many other Americas.† Itís as if we forgot what the original one stood for.† Sure, America is a wonderful collection of diversity and all of us are proud of our ancestral heritage, but how many generations need be borne on American soil before we start thinking of things in terms of our American heritage.† Maybe Iím just a confused, backward, country boy who didnít express this thought as well as it could be expressed and Iíll likely get some hate mail because of it.† My apologies to anyone I might have offended, but from my perspective this is one of the reasons Americans are disconnected.† To paraphrase Mr. Mccullough, we are losing our story.† We appear to be trying to replace it with another.
There is one more disconnect I want to toss out here.† Itís just some thoughts for those of you who celebrate Christmas.† This holiday represents one of the great disconnects of our time.† Do our youngsters, who we have so obviously failed to teach our history to or where we even sit on the map in relation to others, know the true Christmas story? Could they find Bethlehem on the map or do they know that the Christmas story happened in a place thatís in the news everyday?† Do they know that the one true gift they have is the ability to give of themselves and serve others?† This of course brings us back to the beginning of this article and the questions of service.
Reconnecting Americans with America is a huge challenge facing our country that we will meet only through education of young people.† Not only must we educate them in our history, but also be living examples and a constant reminder of the values and selfless-service that made us the great nation we are.
Either we do those things or become another great, but lost society some anthropologist will try to reconstruct in a few thousand years so that he can report what went wrong.
From my family to yours.† Have a very Merry Christmas, and may the New Year bring you much joy.
*From the TROA Legislative Update
**American Council of Trustees and Alumni
Copyright © 2002, James D. Pendry, All Rights Reserved