Symbols and Substance

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

I’m spending this Veterans Day in Washington D.C., as I’m scheduled to speak at the CampaignTech conference Friday morning. Despite the number of times I’ve been here, it is hard not to be a bit awestruck by the image projected by its layout. There was great purpose and thought put into designing this city, and the various buildings and monuments are not only tributes to the people for which they are named, but speak to who these people wanted us to be as a nation.

Across the Potomac sits Arlington National Cemetery, fittingly on a bit of a bluff overlooking the district. There, many of our nation’s veterans are in their final resting place after dedicating their life, and in many cases giving it, to their country. It is very fitting that they received the high ground.

Just down from Arlington lies the Pentagon, where thousands of active duty military personnel continue to serve their country on a daily basis. The magnitude of the building’s size serves as a powerful symbol of the combined strength of those who don a uniform.

The Potomac River separates the Pentagon from the symbols of the three constitutional branches of Government. The White House, the U.S. Capitol, and the U.S. Supreme Court all have their place in the heart of the District. They are the homes of representative government.

By contrast, those in the Pentagon serve us under the direction of the Commander in Chief. While this distinction is underappreciated, is too is an important symbol to those who look to the U.S. as a model of freedom. Our military is the strongest in the world, yet its role in government is severely limited and subservient to the popularly elected representatives of the people.

The active duty members of the military are thus asked to do the work for freedom, but are limited in their role to participate in the political process. Some may call this a thankless task. Military members are generally not allowed to publicly share opinions that are contrary to stated policy. They understand that their job is to execute orders, and during active duty service their ability to do so is primary to expression of individual opinion. It is one of the many sacrifices they make for us.

Many veterans groups, however, are among the most active civic organizations throughout communities across the county. While not overtly political, these organizations give those who have served at home and abroad an outlet to become distinct parts of the community when they establish roots in civilian life. Their appreciation for freedom and this country is evident from their service, and those who do not work with any of these groups are missing out on knowing great people. Their love of country is infectious.

We ask much of the members of our military. We send them all over the world at a moment’s notice, often for months or years at a time. The pay is not large. The living conditions are spartan. There are few modern day status symbols that come along with the job. Except one. Each has earned the right to wear the uniform of the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines. When wearing such, that person has become a living, walking symbol of freedom. There can be no greater status symbol than that.

Underneath is the personification of substance. For putting on that uniform means the willingness to sacrifice everything so that we as a people can remain free. Thus, this symbol has real meaning. It and those who wear it have earned our dedicated respect.

Our military members sacrifice much for us. They ask for little in return. We provide them a pension and medical benefits, and today. Today is their day.

Find a veteran today and let them know that you appreciate them for their service, and for who they are. Let them know that they are a walking symbol that allows us as a country to have real substance.


  1. CobbGOPer says:

    Where is this “Patomac” river you speak of? I lived in DC for a few years, and I don’t recall that particular waterway…

  2. LukeSkywalkersTauntaun says:

    Nice article. No dig on you, but there’s a lot of lip service to this issue and not a lot of substance. We veterans get a lot of “thanks” when people are looking and when it benefits the politicians, but behind the scenes there’s things like the growing movement to cut military benefits and retirement.

    Instead of putting a sticker on your car, or thanking us for our service, please write your congressman and let him or her know that this move is not acceptable.

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