Author’s Note: This was originally written in June of 2007 – 15 years ago. It is still as applicable today as it was (I believe) when I first wrote it. Yes, there are some political outlooks herein and if you disagree with them, that’s cool. We’re all entitled to our opinion.
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On Friday evening I enjoyed a conversation with a gentleman whose knowledge and experience I respect. The man is a 30+ year police veteran who was one of the founding members of his agency’s SWAT unit. He’s old enough now that his own son is a police officer – just as mine is a Marine. He and I were discussing some of the challenges that face the current generation of warriors – and the general lack of true warriors wearing public service uniforms in the world today. While we sat “solving the world’s problems” we realized that the issues of today started – from our perspective – about four decades ago. The changes that have occurred present huge challenges for today’s warriors and if those challenges aren’t overcome, the future doesn’t bode well for this great country of ours.
That same afternoon I received an email about a gentleman named Rick Monday – a name some baseball fans might recognize. Rick was the center-fielder for the Cubs from 1972-1976. During the 4th inning of a game on April 25, 1976, Rick was playing his position when two men came onto the field in Dodgers’ Stadium and tried to burn an American flag. Rick ran from center to left field and picked up the flag as he ran buy the men – preventing them from burning that flag. During an interview about that event, Rick said, “Stopping a few people from burning the flag; if that’s all you’re known for, that’s not a bad thing.”
Think about the power of that statement. Here is a man who spent four seasons as a professional baseball player and he’s okay with being known as a guy who stopped some men from burning an American flag. The fact that he protected the symbol of our great country from being burned is simply what he felt was the right thing to do. How many people today feel that way? How many people today would have simply stood by and watched, waiting for the police or security to do something, afraid of “violating someone’s rights” or afraid of being hurt if they tried to intervene?
Rick Monday understood something that many folks today simply don’t: No one in this world is responsible for my behavior except me. No one is responsible for YOUR behavior except YOU. All of those folks out there who make excuses for the car thief, drug dealer, gang-banger, etc; all they’re doing is enabling those CRIMINALS to continue committing crimes. All the people who make excuses are removing responsibility from the criminals – but, to some extent – they are also removing individual responsibility from others as well. As our society leans more and more toward holding society responsible for individuals, those individuals are moving farther away from supporting society. Think about it…
In the mid-1960s we (the United States) entered into the war in Vietnam. Think about what was going on in our country: President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated; the civil rights movement was underway and a great many changes would face our country by the time we exited Vietnam in 1975. In the mid-‘60s the draft was underway. One of my older brothers was the very first draftee in the state of Maryland. For as many people objected to the draft, or dodged it by running to Canada, how many more stepped up and answered their country’s call?
Here we are these forty plus years later and our country has a shortage: a shortage of men and women who are volunteering to wear their country’s uniform; a shortage of men and women who are entering public safety work; a shortage of men and women who are willing to live their lives in a way that requires them to put the benefit of someone else before their own. Nationwide our country is experiencing a shortage of police recruits. At the same time, an entire generation of cops – those who entered police work upon their return home from Vietnam – is retired or retiring soon. Even if that police officer is one of the last returning Vietnam Veterans, he STILL has more than thirty years of service and is, at a minimum, more than 51 years of age.
Part of me thinks this shortage is actually a result of failed hiring practices across that thirty to forty years. I don’t want anyone to accuse me of saying that any one race is more qualified than another to do law enforcement work, but when affirmative action and equal opportunity employment laws required police departments to hire more members of minority races than they could successfully find qualified applicants, then they had to lower their standards to hire those minority officers. More recently we’ve seen many agencies requiring a higher level of minimum education in their applicants, and with all of the same EOE laws still in effect, agencies are having a hard time finding qualified applicants. I have to believe that at least some of the lost applicants are:
1) not of minority status, and / or
2) not interested in working for an agency whose standards are so low as to hire and field some of the incompetent officers working our streets today.
Now, before someone accuses me of “cop bashing” let me be very clear: I truly believe that the majority of our contemporary law enforcement professionals are competent, intelligent and motivated. I think they are doing a thankless job under severely restricting circumstances controlled by so many laws, rules, regulations and policies that it takes six months of full-time training (and then some) simply to get to the BASIC level of operation. And then, when they do get “on the street” the responsibility they carry and constant stress they deal with is rewarded with a low-middle income salary to do a job that will largely control their lifestyle.
Why would any sane person pursue such a career? Let me suggest an answer: because they were raised with the belief that it is better to stand up for others than to only stand up for one’s self. I can’t remember where I heard this quote, but, “A strong man stands up for himself while a stronger man stands up for others.”
It takes a special person, most especially in today’s world, to grow up with a personality willing to stand and fight against the bully without becoming one; to defend the underdog with restrained violence; to refuse to be a victim without presenting an aggressive façade. Where have all of them gone?
Our country used to be populated by hordes of such people. Indeed our country was founded by men (and women) who stood up against a tyrant to secure a better way of life for ALL Americans. Some of those men were military leaders. Others were simply intelligent and outspoken citizens who refused to be someone’s peasant. We have many such men today, but they are usually not our elected leaders. Why? Because winning elections takes LOTS of money and men who have served in uniform aren’t usually rich on the same level as someone who has been a “public servant” for an entire career. Those military leaders learned to work within and support the system. The elected representatives who are getting evermore rich every day have learned to manipulate the system – and being rich seems to be the greatest goal of the day.
Don’t get me wrong: I like money as much as the next guy. I’d love to have a big house and several hundred acres of land (or several hundred thousand) and the ability to give my kids everything they asked for. But that’s never been my life’s goal and I’m pretty sure it never will be. I raise my children to become autonomous; to be independent; to be able to take care of themselves, and – perhaps most importantly – to give something back to society. Those who we elect to office today have eagerly pursued that office, the paycheck and the retirement. How many of them, do you think, are eager to go back “home” and actually earn a living doing whatever it was they did before they got elected?
Think about how well our elected representatives manipulate the system:
When Bill Clinton got out of office, did he and Hillary return to Arkansas to return to their old way of life? Heck, no. If they did they both knew they’d never have a chance of either of them holding public office again. Instead, they looked around, did some studying, and moved to New York where they could get Hillary elected a Senator. Even if she doesn’t win the Presidential bid she’s pursuing at the moment and even if she didn’t run for Senate again, she and Bill are BOTH going to live off of our tax dollars for the rest of their lives.
Earlier I mentioned some cops I know who have given more than 30 years of their lives to public service. Those same cops are getting a pension they probably have a hard time living on and they risked their lives every day to do it. Bill was president for eight (LONG) years and is going to get paid a decent retirement the rest of his life. Hillary may end up “working” as a Senator for only four and STILL will get paid for the rest of her life. I ask you: what did EITHER of them do to earn a free ride for the next several decades?
They are BOTH the product of that late-‘60s / early ‘70s time frame I mentioned earlier. They both protested the war; Bill evaded the draft and smoked dope; they caused quite a stir in Arkansas and then Bill nearly got impeached for improper actions with an intern IN THE OVAL OFFICE. How did we get so screwed up as to reward such behavior by supporting them for the rest of their lives?
I think we’ve lost focused. We need to go back to that time frame that ran from WWII through Korea and start raising our children to have a healthy desire for public service – and a respect for those who do serve. We need to demand that adults who we elect to public office have demonstrated their willingness to put the public’s needs and welfare before their own. We need to recreate a society where the individual is responsible for his or her own actions, and doing something for others just because it’s the right thing to do is admired and honored.
To accomplish that where politicians are concerned I think we need to adjust two things to ZERO:
– the number of dollars any individual is allowed to spend trying to get elected, and
– the amount of money any elected representative gets paid.
Yep; that’s right; I said DON’T PAY ANY OF THEM. If you are an elected member of any state legislature, the senate or the house of congress, you shouldn’t get a paycheck. You should have pursued that office simply because you were motivated to do the right thing in the interests of your constituents.
I’d also like to suggest that values and ethics programs be added to every public school curriculum and that every student be required to attend and successfully complete them to graduate. I don’t care what your race, religion, sexual orientation or any other “protected status” is – you should be taught values and beliefs that support the continued growth and prosperity of our country in general. The people who teach those programs should be nominated and selected by the community served by the school. It doesn’t take a college degree to know right from wrong; it doesn’t take a doctorate to have the will to choose to do the right thing in the face of adversity. All it takes is knowledge and courage.
If we’re not very careful, the next generation or two of Americans will be so selfish and government dependent that our country will collapse on itself. If it does, what will rise from the ashes will be a battle for the space and the right to control it and how it evolves into whatever comes next. Every fight requires warriors to win and I’m not so sure our current society is raising great numbers of warriors.