Remember when the nation had unflagging respect for our men and women in uniform when we took pride in observing Veterans Day, the Marine Corps birthday, and the anniversary of the founding of the U.S. Navy? Remember presidents in the past who encouraged the nation to stand proud for our servicemen and servicewomen, to recognize the sacrifices they willingly endured for the love of the country? Observance of those military observances, all three of which occurred over the past four weeks, seemed to lack enthusiasm. Why?
Sadly, a report prepared by The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute earlier this year showing that the nation is losing confidence in our military may hold an answer. The Institute’s director, Roger Zakheim, is quoted in the report: “This downward trend in trust of the military is a leading indicator of a diminishing national spirit and an affront to President Reagan’s legacy. As part of his broader goal of restoring national pride, one of our 40th President’s top priorities, upon taking office exactly 40 years ago, was to restore confidence in a military still struggling in the aftermath of Vietnam … He recognized that a trusted military not only strengthens deterrence; it strengthens the self-confidence of the American people. Therefore, President Reagan’s example provides an excellent guide for how we can overcome our current pessimism.”
The Institute’s findings are disappointing, at best. For one thing, although Americans might see the military as the nation’s “most trusted institution,” oddly enough, the numbers of us who have a “great deal of trust and confidence in the military” has fallen from 70% in 2018 to 56% today– a 14% drop.
Another depressing discovery from the Institute’s report: “Only slightly over one-half of Americans (57%) think that the United States has the best military in the world and an even slimmer majority (53%) think it would win a war against a nuclear power. Between using the military or diplomacy in international affairs, 41% of Americans think the United States strikes the right balance, but about a third (34%) think the military is used when diplomacy would be better.”
It’s no wonder that the nation seems to downplay observations of the birthdays of our Armed Forces as the years go by. There was a time when Veterans Day was a big deal with parades and celebrations of the bravery, gallantry, and heroism of our men and women in uniform. The fact is that we haven’t seen or heard a lot of cheering at military celebrations for many years now. Washington Post columnist Bob Levey wrote about it in 1997. He noted that “Veterans Day is fast becoming a ‘flexible holiday.’ That means you can celebrate it today if you choose, or you can bank it and celebrate when it suits you better … It’s often said that the meanings of Christmas and Labor Day are threatened with being lost. But the meaning of Veterans Day is threatened more than either.”
President Biden never served in the military. Of course, his press department makes sure to distribute acknowledgment of military holidays. President Reagan did serve; he actually enlisted in the U.S. Army’s Enlisted Reserve Corps in 1937 and saw active duty in World War II. He was part of what we call today the “Greatest Generation.” And, as president from 1981 to 1989, he ultimately put an end to the Cold War not with guns and bombs but with a tenacious plea to the leader of the Soviet Union, which had been adversaries of the U.S. since the end of World War II.
In 2004, John Keller, Editor in Chief Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, penned an editorial in remembrance of President Reagan shortly after his passing. In it, he noted that “Reagan was deadly serious about strengthening and caring for the nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, and everyone who answered the unit roll call each morning knew it.”
As we celebrate this year’s Veterans Day, AMAC Stands proud in honoring all our Veterans past and present.