I’m Worried About My Country, But Not Afraid
Jason Criss Howk
17 August 2018
As I sit on a porch at ~3800 feet and watch the sun slowly shed light on Grandfather Mountain today, I am concerned. I feel my country is becoming more divided and am troubled that so many people with the power to unite us are daily using divisive words to do the opposite.
The press, pundits, presidents, retired senior government leaders, business leaders, and everyday folk are all helping the Russians to execute their information operations strategy. I am stunned at the ignorance frankly of so many people that should be smarter than this. The Russians and their allies want to weaken us by dividing us, why would you help them?
As a young paratrooper I was taught that you praise in public and counsel in private. In other words you honor and reward people’s good behavior publicly to help the team to become united and accomplish its mission. And, when people needed to be corrected and guided to change their ways you had the courtesy and respect for your fellow man to do it behind closed doors. Because publicly attacking someone, even with the best intentions is often divisive to the team and usually does little to change their behavior. I tried to live by that credo as a sergeant and an officer, and now as an educator.
This brings me to the hot topic of the day: ex-senior government leaders publicly slandering and attacking the president. Yesterday a highly respected special operator leader and some respected (and not so respected) intelligence community leaders came out in defense of another highly partisan and disrespectful ex-intelligence leader. They did so by publicly and personally attacking the president of the United States. I’ve lost my temper and bearing and publicly said things I regret, so let me pick up a stone in this world of glass houses and give it a throw.
I’m pretty sure any one of them could have arranged a private meeting with the president to have a rational discussion but they chose the easy road.
That is another lesson the Army teaches its leaders…when you make a decision you must choose the hard right decision over the easy wrong one. It’s hard to uphold this and I have fallen short in my career. I think most can agree that they have too.
Where does this leave our nation? In a very bad place, but not lost.
Our citizens count on having elected leaders do what’s best for our nation. We count on the press to be honest and unbiased and to give us information without hysteria and partisanship. We count on military leaders to work equally as hard for every civilian appointed over them. We count on intelligence community leaders that are not partisan in any way because the elected leaders have complete trust in them.
Our citizens are not getting what they expect and need from many so called leaders in this country. I have tried to warn the president, the press, retired military leaders, and intelligence community members about this dangerous path they are pursuing. Almost all of them disregarded my advice because I couldn’t possibly be as smart as them. To you that ignored and dismissed my advice, I remind you that hubris is trickier than karma.
On security clearances, which seem to all of the sudden be the most important thing in the world. I have held the highest there is, I was reading what Secretary Clinton was, and seeing the items going into the Presidential daily brief. Clearances actually aren’t that special of a thing. 95% of the “secrets” today can be found on the internet and newspapers, or by reading some ex-government leaders private emails apparently.
I gave up my clearance the day I left the military because I wanted to teach and not earn money from my ability to know anymore “secrets.” If the government needs me back they will give me another security clearance. It’s that simple. We should take them from almost everyone that leaves the government, unless they are going to a specific job that requires it. Colleges don’t require it, and neither do cable news channels.
There is a way out of this trap. Be nice. Be respectful. Offer policy and not political ideas, put your party after your nation. Don’t feed the extremists in any political party. There are people actually calling for a military coup to overthrow the president, don’t accidentally become their unpaid and unelected spokesperson. Calm the hell down and follow the training you have received since kindergarten.
Share the truth without slander. Offer ideas that can improve our nation without painting everyone that disagrees with you as evil, racist, or stupid. Listen to other people, especially listen to people younger than you that are trying to stop you from making mistakes. Give advice in private first, so that it may actually be taken; then go public in an honorable way.
The disunity in our nation didn’t start with the 2016 election. The issues with the journalism profession didn’t just appear when President Trump and CNN got in a childish fight. The concerns that the military would always be subordinate to elected civilians isn’t a new 2018 issue. Political parties didn’t get nasty all of the sudden. Presidents have always failed to live up to many people’s expectations.
This isn’t a nation ending crisis. Let’s be rational. Think strategically and stop freaking out about the little things that will pass.
While I am concerned about my nation, I am also a historian. I know that another election is coming soon. I know a new batch of military leaders graduates from schools across our country annually. I know that there are smart young intelligence community members that are learning the dangers of becoming political and will seek to avoid that trap.
We will be alright, if we come together and respectfully disagree when we must, while spending more time working to help each other achieve the American dream. Let’s focus on life, liberty, and the unselfish pursuit of happiness.
Don’t worry, the sun will continue to rise everyday that you do. Make the most of the sunlight.