I try to avoid posting on the same subjects, especially on the same day, as the other blogs that I read. However, over on John Scalzi’s Whatever I wrote a comment in response to one of his posts. I realized I wanted to expand on that comment here, and since my personal rules are more like guidelines than actual law, that is exactly what I’m going to do.
A few thoughts on the nature of Privilege and Responsibility in America
The founders of America were men who risked their lives to give the finger to King George with the Declaration of Independence, they were men who risked their lives and livelihoods and loved ones in the Revolutionary War, and they were the ones who forged a new country based on a Constitution they had written with a radical revolutionary idea in mind – that all men were created equal, and had equal rights, even if they didn’t enjoy equality in rank, station, or birth.
Of course, even in those first days of the new country, some were more equal than others (and despite the lofty ideals, some were decidedly unequal, more like property actually or inconveniently in the way). But the ideals of the Constitution were so powerful, that eventually, over time, the average citizen did become more or less equal. Strangely though, at the same time that such issues as slavery, woman’s suffrage, the rights of non-property owners, color, religion, and etc were being resolved, something directly contrary, and very subtle, was happing unnoticed in the background. In the early days of the country, the privileged were the ones who led the revolution. Don’t get me wrong, I doubt they were all that altruistic. Despite the often stated principles of freedom, democracy, equal representation, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I doubt that there would have been an American Revolution if George III hadn’t been over-taxing the crap out of the Colonial landowners. Whatever their motivation, there can be no denying that the first leaders of this country were the type of men who fought, and bled, alongside their fellow countrymen. They didn't send others to achieve what they themselves wanted, they went themselves.
A hundred years down the line, and we still had leaders of vision and with a sense of service to high ideals. Men like Teddy Roosevelt. Who advocated a highly unpopular war with Spain, and then joined the US Volunteer Cavalry to put his money where his considerably large mouth was. He served alongside men from all walks of life, from highwaymen and cattle rustlers of the western frontier, to former slaves, to the highest society boys of
Military service, even service in combat, does not automatically imbue a person with some kind of special insight, or magical leadership ability. There have been plenty of lousy Representatives, Senators, Judges, and yes, even Presidents with military experience. However, military service, especially combat experience does change you in ways that tend to be often indefinable. What those things are, I can’t say with any certainty other than that it has to do with service, obligation, and responsibility. There’s an old saying in the military: “Rank has its privilege.” This is true, but what is often left unsaid is the rest of that statement, which is “but the privilege of rank is often far outweighed by its responsibility.” And responsibility is something that many in power these days seem to forget. Responsibility to those that elected them, responsibility to those that did NOT vote for them but they represent anyway, responsibility to the nation as a whole, and most especially responsibility to those who defend this nation. I have to wonder: on a daily basis, how many sons, daughters, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, and friends in uniform do the leaders of this country actually know, personally, or even peripherally. It's not just a matter of if they have served themselves (since most of them emphatically have not) it’s also that their social circles no longer include the kind of people who do. Their kids go to private schools, and it’s unlikely that those kids have schoolmates whose parents are deployed in uniform, since most military folks don't make enough money to send their kids to such institutions. And they generally don't let working-class military types into the upper-class restaurants, private sports boxes, gated-communities, private planes, or the country clubs that the Government and Industry leaders frequent. Not too many military folks attend those $10,000 a plate fund raising dinners either. Shaking hands with a captive military audience while the cameras snap away within the protected confines of the Green Zone does not constitute knowing somebody in uniform.
How many of our leaders have the moral courage, the strength of conviction, the sense of service and duty that their predecessors did? How many have the courage to risk their privileged positions, as George Washington did, or John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, or the countless others of the American Revolution? How many leaders today would have the courage to do what
Rank indeed has its privileges, but when those privileges far outweigh the responsibility and obligations of that rank - when privilege, but not responsibility, becomes hereditary - well then you’re no longer living in the democracy our ancestors fought so dammed hard for. When you go to the poles a year from now, bear that in mind.