As I listen to the Reagan Presidential Library program, “Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Wall: Reflections from Yesterday, Lessons for Today,” my mind wanders to the killing rampage at Fort Hood, the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military base in history. As we approach Veterans Day, you wonder what possesses an Army psychiatrist to take the lives of so many?
As a soldier, you know you could loose your life in combat, but you never expect to die at the hands of a fellow soldier supposedly committed to supporting your mental health. Major Nidal Malik Hasan put his misguided jihadist beliefs ahead of his military calling. Psychiatrists are supposed to help, not kill. Will this act weaken or strengthen our resolve?
At a time of cold war twenty years ago, President Reagan was warned against saying the diplomatically risky words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” He reminded the naysayers who was president, took a strong stand against the powers of totalitarianism, and freedom won.
John Lehman, Jr., Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy, talked about Reagan’s quick action to select his Department of Defense appointments and to communicate his plan of action. Previously, détente was described as the relaxation of tension, but if only one side is relaxing, the other side is gaining ground. Reagan was committed to matching the Soviet strength quickly and decisively.
Reagan’s Chief Foreign Policy Advisor Richard Allen commented on Reagan’s simple but powerful approach to the communist superpower, “My theory about the cold war is that we win and they lose.”
As President Obama continues to deliberate on which plan to take in Afghanistan, you wonder what Reagan might do? When faced with the terrorist attack on our Marines in Lebanon early in his first term, Reagan wanted to retaliate, but he gave in to diplomatic and Nato resistance and removed our forces instead. After that experience, he committed to act more decisively and maintain peace through strength with constancy of purpose. Peter Robinson, a Reagan speechwriters, commented on what Reagan might do today: “Telling generals in the field, ‘I will get back to you,’ is inconceivable.”
General Peter Pace insights on military leadership are worth taking seriously, "One thing the Marine Corps teaches is that it's better to be doing something than doing nothing. If you stay where you are, you're in the position where your enemy wants you to be. If you start doing something, you are changing the rules of the game." Combat is a verb. It isn’t a place. It is an act. Movement matters. You keep asking yourself as a leader, “Now, what are you going to do next?”
Freedom must be earned in every generation. Our Vietnam veterans know how frustrating it was to watch politicians put soldiers on hold; tying their hands in Vietnam was a recipe for defeat. Our soldiers today deserve a President who understands what bold action can mean to soldiers in the field. Mr. President, take a lesson from Reagan, make a decision, and let our soldiers do their job.