To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.
While spending time with a Wisconsin Army National Guard unit currently serving in Baghdad, Iraq, I had the privilege of listening to them debate, explain, and vent their feelings about the state of America. Their unique viewpoint was shared and debated while preparing for, executing, and reconsolidating after missions. Since they are National Guard soldiers, they are fully invested in the civilian world as well as the military. Many of them are fathers.
One of the gifts that the Founding Fathers built into the framework of American government is the full acknowledgement and embracing of competition in society. That embrace became the backbone of American commerce and one of the cornerstones in the dominance of American
interests on the planet. Military leaders cite it as a reason for dominance on the battlefield: the ability to improvise, adapt, and overcome in the face of the ultimate competition [battle].
A young Lieutenant who speaks with a wisdom beyond his years says: “Where other militaries collapse when things don’t go as planned, the American soldier steps up. They take what is thrown at them, adjust, and pivot with power toward solution. They are taught how to face combat, which is the ultimate competition, with tenacity, ferocity, and discipline. It breeds effectiveness.”
Soldiers provide keen insight into the value, benefits, and drawbacks of competition. Their main business is the most intense competition of all—combat.
American society seems to have a split personality when it comes to competition.
Media outlets make billions of dollars in the sports arena, including extremely violent sports like mixed martial arts fighting and boxing. Violent movies make millions at the box office. Daytime television is filled with court TV which is a televised competition for justice. Evening television is filled with police shows where tough guys conquer the morally corrupt to make a safer society.
The American public appears to be ravenous for and fixated on actualized justice. It loves a winner and pursues intensely what it takes to become a winner. It despises a loser. Water-cooler talk is contentious with who is the better athlete or team and why. Judgments are made about the arguer based on the faultiness or solidity of his or her argument.
On the opposite side, a large contingent of American society seems horrified by competition when it comes to education or parenting. Philosophies that seek to build “self-esteem” often tag competition as negative and seek to make both of the competing teams winners so no one’s feelings get hurt. Statements like “no one wins in a fight/war” and “violence never solves anything” surface.
Direct opposition to this philosophy is what kids see when they go home and turn on the television. War is on television as the way that Presidents solve problems. Children are bombarded with stories that say that police have arrested and/or killed bad guys to make society safer. The Armed Forces are tagged as heroes and footage of precision bombing is applauded. Our leaders and communities honor our veterans with the utmost sobriety on Memorial Day. In history classes, children are taught that after an insurgent war against Britain, American became its own glorious nation that waves the flag of freedom higher than anyone else on the planet.
The message that says “all violence is bad” is in direct opposition to what occurs “in the real world.” Civilized society contracts with its government not only to provide a military, but also to provide a police force in their community. History has shown that without this form of social control, it deteriorates into a mob. If all violence is bad, our children ask, then why are there men and women who carry guns, tasers, and batons, wear badges, and are not only given the right to use force against those who would seek to harm others, but also who are paid by that community to do so?
Can’t the more articulate view be made? As our children become young adults couldn’t we provide them with a more accurate view? One that empowers them with a more realistic view of reality? One that doesn’t lead to an emasculated confusion?
One that says: “War and violence are repulsive, ugly, and painful, but they are a necessary part of remaining free, responsible, and stable in an imperfect world. When dealing with irrational, manipulative, destructive, and immoral people, communities, states, or governments that physically threaten the citizens, glory, and essence of a free state, it becomes necessary to engage them in a form of combat that is not limited to, but which does include physical violence.”
In our recent past, the way to overcome a bully was to stand up for yourself and fight back. Both the bully and the victim learned valuable lessons about power. Now, fighting itself is what is branded as wrong. Now instead of facing their enemies, our children are told to tell their teacher and the teacher refers the child to a counselor and the counselor develops a diagnosis and the school system develops a disciplinary action. Medication might get prescribed. Swamped social services might get involved. The police might be involved. Societal ills are grieved over. The very real risk of a school shooting is fearfully fielded by school administrators.
Is this progress? Or is the whole thing a ridiculous circus of overeducated fools who actually cause a more violent response from our youth by not providing them with a clear moral code in the first place?
Is it too difficult to admit that violence is a necessary part of our world? Or is the most terrifying thing that we don’t get to decide this? That reality has made this choice for us, and we have very little control over that fact?
A young sergeant who is heaving body armor over his shoulders comments: “Haven’t you heard the Spartan proverb that says, ‘If men were just, there would be no need for valor’?”
The Insult of Relativism
Recently, academia has espoused relativism as a viable philosophy. Relativism conflicts directly with the concept that we don’t get to make the ultimate decision on reality. Relativism tells us that there are no absolutes, that reality is whatever we decide. Even if two ideas directly oppose or conflict, they can both be “true.”
A soldier who had to put his college education on hold for his military deployment states: “Relativism is ridiculous and irrational. A number of my fellow students seemed to think that they were brilliant when they said things like ‘Hey, man, whatever’s true for you is fine. It might not be true for me. Believe what you want. Reality is merely socially constructed ideas.’ It’s these students who are the most confused and depressed people I’ve ever encountered. By their belief system, nothing matters. In their twisted view of the world, Osama bin Laden would be just a guy living his reality. We as Americans would be oppressive dictators simply for asserting that his world view is wrong. I wonder why adherents to this philosophy don’t make a louder argument. Maybe because it’s cowardly, insulting, irrational, and ridiculous. Maybe because of what the families of those who lost loved ones on 9/11 would do to these people if they did pose their argument outside of academia. But I guess when you hide there it’s a perfectly valid idea. It’s just that it’s an impossible idea to swallow when your husband doesn’t come home from work and never will and you have to tell your kids that daddy isn’t ever
[expletive] coming home.”
Another soldier chimes in. “Simply believing something doesn’t make it true. A person can believe that when they walk off a cliff that they will float in midair and not fall to their death. Who wants to be the first to try it? Not me.”
The original soldier speaks again. “God help us if the dominant idea is that everything is relative. If that’s the case, then there can be no valid moral code. If there is no valid moral code, then I’m heading for the hills because civilization is about to collapse into fierce, barbaric chaos.”
A Clear Moral Code
If a rational morality has been abandoned by those who are supposedly the most educated and intelligent of our nation, then one wonders where we stand as a nation, as parents, as educators? Shouldn’t morality spur our minds instead of embracing ideas which order our minds to attempt to asphyxiate morality?
To take a reasonable look at the use of force doesn’t mean that we are going to rush into it. In fact it means the opposite. It should be the most heavily weighed option of a free government. Sending its sons and daughters into harm’s way should be debated constantly and vehemently by the nation’s representatives while its Armed Forces are in harm’s way. Police activity should be constantly debated and evaluated as they seek to serve and protect community members who pay for them to handle crime in their neighborhoods.
But shouldn’t we acknowledge the fact that violence is a part of life instead of attempting to bury that truth because it isn’t pretty or convenient? How can we have a healthy “self-esteem” if we are not free to acknowledge the truth?
The War For Our Childrens’ Minds
As our children develop and formulate their views, they receive multiple mixed messages. These mixed messages cause confusion. Many reject the idea of morality altogether as they embrace relativism and dissolve into an internal chaos. If we, as parents, do not articulate an objective moral code, then how are our children supposed to successfully navigate the cresting and ebbing waves of their emotions, stressors, and the certain struggles of life?
If we strip our children of rationality, then why should we be surprised that our children are excessively violent, frustrated, depressed, anxious, unable to maintain lifelong relationships or employment? If we don’t take the time to think about the significance of our actions, to bring morality into the “real world” of human interaction instead of floating around in an irrational academia, then we are shooting our own children in the leg and telling them to run a marathon. Then when they collapse we look at them as if they are
Can’t we empower our children by telling them the truth about the world, even if it isn’t pretty or a “warm fuzzy”? Don’t we owe them that? Or should we torture them with an endless mascarade of “thinking positive” to the point of crippling them into an inability to function?
Combat, A Sobering Teacher
A young sergeant, drenched with sweat in the 115 degree heat, says: “The way to win a fight is to first know that you are in a fight, then train as you fight, then fight. The way to lose a fight is to be too afraid to figure out what is worth fighting for, reject the fact that you are in a fight, then not fight.” He says this as he prepares to go “outside the wire” in Baghdad. In the last two weeks they have found 2 sets of explosive formed projectiles that could’ve killed multiple soldiers by piercing all the armor on their humvees and MRAPs before
detonating inside the vehicles. He and his squad live in constant readiness against these attacks as well as snipers and armor piercing grenades that have been smuggled into Iraq from Iran.
He continues: “That doesn’t necessarily mean physical violence, either. You can fight a war without physical violence. Legal wars are fought in board rooms across the world every day. Emotional wars are fought in homes between husbands and wives, parents and children. Democrats war politically with Republicans and vice versa. There is no such thing as a conventional or unconventional war. War itself is the convention. The sooner people wrap their minds around that, the better we’ll all be.”
His buddy is getting situated in the turret of his humvee. “It doesn’t mean we have to be war mongering pillagers of nature and each other to make a dollar. It means the opposite. An acknowledgement of competition in society causes people to have a greater ability to lay hold of a lasting peace. Denial of this truth creates a weak and vulnerable existence riddled with fear, self-doubt, anxiety, and depression.”
“When bullets are flying, the worst thing to do is sit down and wish it all away. That will get you and your buddies killed or leave you with a future nightmare filled with PTSD, guilt, and shame. Dante said it: ‘The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in time of great moral crisis, remain neutral.’ There are things in life worth fighting for, worth dying for. If you aren’t aware of that, then you are living a small, petty, and uninvested existence. It’s the same for business, education, your job. You’re in a competition and you have to put up stats. You have to get the project done. You have to save the company money. You have to respect the environment to maintain your natural resources. You can’t alienate your employees or your customers by abusing or disrespecting them.”
“Competition isn’t the devil. It’s a corrupted character during competition that is your enemy. No one can withstand attacks without character. Character is the gut check that keeps you in the fight, that keeps you focused on the goal, that keeps you innovating, struggling, striving, persevering when the world is stacking up chips against you.”
“That’s why at the end of a fight there is often a display of respect between opponents. The warrior knows that he would’ve never become the man he is at that moment in the glory of victory if he hadn’t trained for such a worthy opponent. Without enemies who test us, and without the character that creates a response to those tests, then we would not become better. It’s about honor which is earned. That is the real victory. Why shouldn’t we teach these things to our children instead of a brain trick where we are supposed to constantly tell ourselves I’m fine I’m beautiful I’m wonderful I’m special no matter how untrue it is?”
“We’re filling our elementary schools with Omerosas,” the soldier says, referencing reality show star from Donald Trump’s television show “The Apprentice.” “How scary is that?”
These young soldiers roll out of the gate and into the blazing, dusty desert filled with innumerable hazards, they laugh as they go. They are giants among men, although they don’t have PhD’s, tons of money, or grace the covers of magazines. They would ridicule each other if they were on the covers of magazines. Celebrities and politicians have made insulting comments that the youth of America will wind up in Iraq or Afghanistan if they don’t get a college degree. They have no idea about the wealth in the humble hearts of those who sacrifice so much intentionally for the glory of their free country. When they complete their service overseas they will come home to country that may need them and their wisdom even more.
Image credit: Army.mil, Flickr
Mack Dreyfuss is a freelance writer and writes on a variety of topics while doing his best to enjoy all four seasons. He lives in Wisconsin with his wife and daughter. He has been rumored to occasionally change a diaper one-handed, but his wife states that such a feat has never been witnessed. You can read more of his work at themackdreyfusslounge.com.