Showing posts with label world affairs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label world affairs. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 19

The Future Of The Everywherenet, Part 2

What's Not Next?
Never mind all those social media and marketing tactics that everyone wants you to remember. The life span of most online marketing tactics lasts about six months if you are lucky. Sure, some last a little longer. Some last a little less. But all of them change.

The future of the Internet is poised to leap well ahead of wearable technology that quantifies the self. It's one of the reasons I both praised and dismissed some of the tips featured in 99 Facts Every Entrepreneur Must Be Aware Of In The Digital Age. Most of those tips will last only a blink.

Ergo. Some people predict 90 percent of all Internet traffic will be video by 2017. I doubt it. It will much more likely be interactive mixed medium and augmented reality interface. Some of the other presentation facts are much more valuable because they monitor the past as opposed to predicting the future.

In fact, some of the most powerful slides from that presentation demonstrate just how powerful change can be. More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in 2000 disappeared by 2010.

The future is flexible. It can be as bright or as dark as we make it. 

The first part of this post — The Future Of The Everywherenet, Part 1 — expressed some of the brilliant innovations we'll see in the near future. This one touches on something else all together.

Anytime I present On Spreading Messages as part of my Writing For Public Relations series, I point out one ugly truth about communication. For every innovation that propels us forward, someone inevitably invents a manipulation that drags us backward. The same can be said about technology.

As Geoff Livingston reported from SXSW, some of the biggest buzz centered on the surveillance. He suggested that keynotes Julian Assange and Edward Snowden set the tone. Maybe. Maybe not.

I see it as a sign of the times because some of the greatest innovations ahead come with some of the greatest potential for abuse. It's part of an older conversation that often gets shuffled away into the shadows because it creeps people out. Why? The downside of an everywherenet is the inability to escape it.

Concepts like proximity advertising, consumer profiling, and big data collection are not new, but we tend to ignore them (except when we actively embrace them without wisdom). People frequently tell me that privacy concerns are merely a topic for conspiracy theorists, but conversations that I've had about the future of an everywherenet point to surveillance as a side effect of something better.

In other words, nobody will willingly agree to everything they do being captured, quantified, and assessed. But when you package it as a benefit, everyone wants to sign up. Privacy always seems optional.

Technology is an excellent servant and a relentless master. 

Case in point. My doctor smiled when he said he couldn't wait for the day that I would walk into his office, step in front of a display, and immediately see a complete diagnostic. While working in energy medical services, first responders were among the biggest advocates of transportation computer chips that pinpoint location and provide damage assessments at the scene of any accident. Some technology futurists I know frequently fantasize about a world where you can wave a hand in front of a cash register to make a purchase or unlock your front door without a key. The benefit would be convenience, crime abatement, and (given the option) consumer discounts and rebates.

All of those benefits sound too good to be true, but none of them are free. The price is a complete and total erosion of privacy. And once privacy is given up freely, analysis is only a few key strokes away.

One day, your doctor could be required to submit your health information to a federally-monitored health care system with consensus-approved procedures to help you modify your health. One day, your vehicle might not only be better equipped to assist you but also better equipped to ensure compliance with all local, state, and federal laws. One day, all of your data could be confined to a single processor either embedded in your body or a federal or state issued identification card that must be carried at all times.

Some thought leaders in the technology sector look at these solutions as being vital to what they call the technological evolution of mankind — where our biological circuitry can freely interact with the Internet. And in some thought exercises, they imagine a world where working for the good of society is a foregone conclusion and the pursuit of individual luxuries (what some might call happiness) is old hat.

Think it's all science fiction? Some of it has already been done. What hasn't will be old news by 2020.  

But what does this have to with marketing and public relations? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Personally, I think communicators need to be more than cheerleaders for their organizations. They need to service both the interests of the organization and the public. And by that, I don't mean what needs to be done for their own good. The question always needs to be: If not you, then who?

Wednesday, September 18

A Leadership Lesson From A Place Few Experts Tread

Last August, U.S. President Barack Obama compared Russian President Vladimir Putin to a tiresome schoolboy. But less than 30 days after he made the offhanded comment, it was President Putin who would school President Obama in foreign affairs. Russia is celebrating a diplomatic victory this week.

Somehow, President Obama and his administration allowed the Syria crisis to get away from them. Instead of the United States leading a coalition of countries to bring Syria to justice for using chemical weapons, Russia is being celebrated for stopping the escalation of aggression in the Middle East at the hands of unexceptional Americans. Syria will also surrender its chemical weapons, or so they say, and the world will be a better place.

The turnabout of this narrative was about as masterful as any propaganda since the end of the Cold War. One might even praise the audacity of the move, if not for the considerable consequences.

How recent events have changed the geo-political landscape for now.

Russia temporarily gains world prestige and more influence in the Middle East while protecting its Syrian allies, a country run by a leader who used chemical weapons against their own people. Syria also works lockstep with Iran, smuggling arms to the Hisbollah in Lebanon. And Iran has said all along that the U. S. was behind the uprising, a charge that may not have been initially accurate but has become accurate in the last two years. The arms sent into the conflict are limited, with the U.S. fearing these weapons could all too easily be turned on us as suppliers because some rebels are tied to the same terrorists the U.S. has fought for years. To say Syria is a mess is an understatement.

But most Americans don't even know that the U.S. has already picked a side. It wants to topple the government in Syria, but obviously less than Russia wants to keep Bashar al-Assad.

Those seem to be some of the facts (but not nearly all of them). Just don't mistake them as a call for action or involvement on my part. To me, Syria is another cumulation of events that convinces Americans to choose between two bad choices — act as the global police even when the world doesn't want you to while supporting rebels that may (or may not) include your enemies or do nothing, which is de facto support for a dictator who has long despised you and is happy to operate against your interests.

This is why so many advisors frame U.S. foreign policy in Syria up as a choice between which we like better: the enemy you know or the enemy you do not. It would take a fool to hazard a guess.

Lesson learned: Leadership does not talk big with a little stick. 

Many people seemed enamored by Teddy Roosevelt's foreign policy that is often summed up from his quip to "speak softy and carry a big stick." And yet, few seem to realize that this is akin to negotiating peacefully while simultaneously threatening people with a "big stick." It was coined at a time when the division between American isolationists and internationalists had boiled over, again.

This division is one of the more interesting ones in politics because it does not follow party lines. Although current public perception is that the Republicans are hawks and Democrats are doves, it's not really true. On the contrary, it was progressives who led the country into conflict and war more often than their counterparts who prefer to live and let live. Americans only think the opposite because neoconservatives joined progressives as being internationalists.

Sometimes this internationalist concept works. Sometimes it does not. And this time, it obviously has not worked for President Obama, partly because of his own words and actions for the better part of seven years. He has campaigned under the auspices of being against what the world saw as American imperialism, but has secretly and stealthily supported various programs that reinforce the idea anyway.

The primary difference between this administration and last mostly has to do with the size of the talk and the size of the stick. Bush favored speaking big and carrying a big stick. Obama favors speaking big and carrying a little stick. And, unfortunately, this has made Americans largely unsupportive of any action abroad while making their detractors much more emboldened to push new agendas.

Who cares? Well, that is a subject open for debate. There are those who believe the U.S. can exist without being a major player in the world and there are those who believe we have to lead the world. The thinnest majority of Republicans and Democrats believe we ought to lead because history has proven that trouble will knock on the door of the U.S. whether it goes looking or not.

Foreign policy isn't what this post is about. It's about leadership. 

There are plenty of people who have long criticized the foreign policy of the Obama administration, among other things. The reason it invites criticism is because it lacks coherency, primarily because the original vision that he brought to the presidency runs counter to the way the world works.

President Obama told the American people that retracting the reach of the United States while simultaneously making nice-nice with the world would place us in a potion where our diplomatic prowess alone could influence world affairs. It's not really true, but that was the vision he forwarded to the American people and the world (despite trying to keep a finger on specific interests anyway).

There are dozens of places where that was never going to work. Syria is one of them. Instead, it is one of those places where you have to make the decision, announce the decision, and act on the decision.

The Obama administration didn't do that, mostly, because too much could go wrong. They also didn't want to be responsible if it did. So, in effect, they pushed it off for a few years and then attempted to assemble a middle-of-the-road approach that wouldn't make it look like Obama was rolling back on his posture to be a polite player in the world. When that didn't work, he punted to Congress for a vote while simultaneously withholding any accountability to that vote in case it didn't go his way.

On the domestic front, it all comes across as being considerate, depending largely on how well you like his administration. All the while, everyone forgot that the U.S doesn't exist in a vacuum. Other world leaders saw the vote-and-pony show as indecisiveness at best and weakness at worst. And no matter how you see it, other countries have since seized on the moment.

Contrast this with what Prime Minister David Cameron did. He said the United Kingdom ought to become involved and he made a very strong case to Parliament. When Parliament voted against intervention, he stated it was a mistake but would accept the will of the people. It was a done deal and he didn't look too passive, too pompous or too weak after the outcome.

What's the difference? The difference is that Cameron understands being a leader as opposed to being an expert politician. In this case, a leader transcends their appearance of authority in order to ensure any following is aligned to the organizational goals and not themselves as individuals.

Experts, on the other hand, tend to be different all together. They derive their appearance of authority from their reputation and are not willing to risk it by accepting responsibility. In this case (and possibly many others), President Obama is playing expert in Syria (without the right expertise, perhaps).

The expert fallacy can cost an organization its clarity. 

Right now, almost everyone in the U.S. is looking for experts to solve problems when what we really need are leaders. We see it in politics. We see it in business. But based on the number of people who have added "expert" to their labels (deserved or not), it's safe to say that we have a glut of those instead.

What's the difference? Leaders are those people who figure things out. They are people who have a vision, sometimes asking experts for their opinions on how to make that vision real, and then approve those opinions based on what he or she believes is most likely to make that vision real.

If they'e right, history remembers them with reverence. If they are wrong, not so much. The risk is part of the job. Leaders are held accountable. In government, they don't pin blame elsewhere. In business, they don't need golden parachutes. These are the people who make their own way.

Leaders don't cling to and attempt to manipulate the world they know; they look to shape the world into something no one had ever considered before. (Ergo, a push button phone design expert can't see a flat screen phone as being functional.) And this is why they continually find solutions that experts could never fathom. It's one thing to be studied in what is, and another thing to see what could be.

When it comes to world affairs, history has shown it that the world will praise whomever is steadfast in their vision and conviction to see it through, despite being wrong on some points. So how about you?

Are you are a leader or follower? Do you know your field or are you ready to re-imagine it? Or maybe you want to talk about something else? One of my friends has already suggested we abandon Syria and start focusing on some of the problems we have right here in this country, like homeless workers. What do you think ... about anything?

Wednesday, July 3

They Can Have Deen, Snowden, And Obama. I Prefer Freedom.

Retro Quarter
Independence Day in the United States commemorates the adoption of the Declaration Of Independence on July 4, 1776, when a handful of men and women announced their sovereignty as a nation. My favorite celebration to date was 1976. It's hard to beat the United States Bicentennial.

In the city of my youth (Milwaukee), celebrations were planned at every local park. Suspenders and Dixieland hats with a red, white and blue sash were optional. Ice cream came in plastic cups to be eaten with wooden spoons, sold by men on big three-wheel bicycles. The smell of grilled sausages and bratwursts lingered in the air. And it would remain that way until nightfall, when the sky would erupt with fireworks.

But there was something more than all that, the big bands, long parades, and holding tightly to quarters emblazoned with patriots. It might have felt like more because the price of freedom was still fresh in our minds as people were fighting for peace at home or for the nation halfway around the world. It all took a toll.

The country had some challenges ahead, but also felt young and unweathered. 

Two hundred years didn't seem like such a long time. As a country, we had barely finished crawling. If you asked anyone back then whether they would fight the American Revolution all over again, no had to wonder where a majority might fall. The spirit of the Declaration Of Independence was intact.

Our country still counted freedom and liberty among our greatest virtues. We all saw it as the lifeblood of everything — the probability that with education or opportunity or persistence, we could either land a job after graduation or start a computer company out of a garage, which someone incidentally did in 1976. Sometimes it was hard work to make it happen, but mostly the only people in our way was us.

Less than four decades later, it isn't so clear cut anymore. For all the virtues of a majority rule that has encroached on our fragile representative government, we adopted a notion that freedom is as simple as a choice. But freedom isn't a choice. It's about having choices. We haven't been making great ones.

Scale Weights by Tomasz Sienicki, adapted
The reason some of them aren't so great is simple enough. We're continually trading away freedom for security without appreciating the economics of it. Unlike supply and demand, the scales of freedom are stacked. It's the only thing in the world that is cheap to sell and expensive to buy. We've sold away too much of it, often times for promises that will never be delivered (and sometimes for something worse).

More than that, it seems the United States has grown too accustomed to the notion that we are somehow rotten as a people. And as a result, we must somehow feel forever in debt to this national guilt. The terms of payment are clear. Every year, we're asked to give a little more of our freedom and pay a little more for the dwindling amount of freedom that remains. The irony is that government administers the demand and collection of debt, even though it and not the people are responsible.

The quality of the choices we make today will dictate the quantity of choices we make tomorrow. 

A few people who have read this space for as long as I've been writing it recently asked me why I haven't covered the usual communication suspects that have surfaced in the news. Some of them figured it was related to my recovery, but that's not it. It's about my heart.

While my head still sees communication challenges and how this or that needs to be handled, my heart isn't into taking on the ugliness that holds our country hostage to guilt. There are better topics than this:

Deen. Her ignorance is more deserving of our pity than punishment. Worse, by continually reinforcing that various segments of our country have ties to racism is counterproductive as it casts all Americans with European heritage as racists and all Americans with an African heritage as victims. While it's convenient to think so in this fog of political guilt, 5 percent of the men who gave their lives at Bunker Hill were African-Americans. They were heroes not victims.

It seems to me if there is any debt to be paid on July 4, it ought to paid by honoring the thousands of African Americans who fought not alongside patriots but as patriots during the American Revolution. We might even start with Crispus Attucks, a hero of the Boston Massacre. Americans didn't care that Attucks was African American when he was shot. They only cared he was a colonist like them.

Snowden. His celebrity is the least important part of the story. Although it amazes me to some degree that political factions on the right and left can find common ground on what is being cast as a national security issue, the real story is the extent of arbitrary searches, seizures and the collection of data by the government. Both sides whittled away at the Fourth Amendment for more than 10 years.

While some Americans feel additional security is warranted, the cost is too high in terms of freedom and fiscal expense. It might be argued that short-term measures were reasonable during a state of war, but it also seems infinitely suspicious that any regime would call for a perpetual state of war readiness to justify a permanent invasion of privacy. The greater threat to public safety is that for every dollar the federal government collects to snoop, we have one less dollar for local public safety like firefighters.

Obama. Democracy voted to sequester national health care based on a "free" soundbite. George Washington once said that if freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we would be led like sheep to the slaughter. There is a similar fate for those who vote without making comprehension compulsory. As a nation of news snackers who prefer affirmation and popularity over objectivity and complexity, we don't always understand the depth of the issues we form opinions about.

People pick their sides. So writing about Obamacare spin on both sides seems futile to me, especially when more important topics are missed: what can we do to stop killing bees, why are genetically modified foods becoming more prevalent (avoid them), and how to fix the primary care physician shortage. Right. It's much easier to discuss guilt over soda size than topics that affect us.

Have fun in the name of freedom. And please change the subject. 

In 1976, the country wasn't perfect but what we wanted seemed pretty simple. We wanted a little elbow room to enjoy our definition of happiness and one day a year to appreciate the 2.5 million people (less 10-20 percent loyalists) who put their lives on the line for freedom (and everyone else afterward).

Many of our children may want something like that someday too. With the cost of education eclipsing the cost of a starting a small business, it's anybody's guess if they will. As for me, I'd rather think about heroes and how to help them — patriots (of every race), firefighters, doctors, and honey bees — than the topics served up by social and traditional media. Maybe you would like to help me change the subject too. The press can have Deen, Snowden and Obama. Good night and good luck. Have fun and be safe.

Monday, May 28

Honoring Sacrifices: Memorial Day

"We come, not to mourn our dead soldiers, but to praise them." — Francis A. Walker

Last year, on Memorial Day, I included a list of nonprofit organizations working to preserve the memories of fallen soldiers who served in the United States Armed Forces. These men and women, who served their country and gave the ultimate sacrifice, have earned our admiration as all those who serve do.

This year, I wanted to draw attention to something else. Often times the sacrifices they make in service to our country are not exclusively their own. As sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, they are other people who also bare these sacrifices in life.

Among the best known survivors are American War Mothers, especially those distinguished as Gold Star Mothers, women who have lost a son or daughter in service to their county. And it is their stories that help put the sacrifices of our soldiers into perspective.

And along with these women who carry on in the face of tragedy, are the men and women who served alongside them. There are more than 23 million of them, veterans of the Armed Forces who live, work, and play in your hometown. They remember, unable to forget the sacrifices made for and by others.

And along with them, there are hundreds and thousands of children who made sacrifices too. To help them cope and learn to live with loss is the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which provides an immediate connection; and Children Of Fallen Soldiers, which is dedicated to helping mentor these children to help them achieve their dreams. Here is a clip that helps explain TAPS, the first programs mentioned.

These videos, whether viewed independently or alone, hopefully convey a different message about Memorial Day. Many people from around the world have the mistaken notion that Memorial Day is an extension of national pride in the United States. In reality, when it is observed, it a somber reminder of a people who value peace, appreciate the cost of conflict, and understand the sacrifice of too many.

A Brief Perspective On Memorial Day.

Even its establishment, originally as Decoration Day, was not a celebration of war but rather the efforts of formerly enslaved African-Americans to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War who died for their freedom. Later, Southern states held their own Memorial Days, helping rebind the common cause of this country and by 1866, both Union and Confederate casualties were commemorated.

Later still, the holiday began to include the casualties of other conflicts, servicemen and women who may not have died in the country's internal conflict over freedom but rather in conflicts related to freedom all over the world.

While many American observe this day differently, the least people are asked to do is to pause for minutes at 3 p.m. (their time zone) for the National Moment of Remembrance. The goal of this moment is understood. It is a call to remember that the price of freedom is never free. The cost of it is paid for with the lives of brave men and women in an instant, and then by their families forever. Good night and good luck.

Monday, February 20

Observing Washington: George Washington Day

Although many in the United States believe Presidents' Day is a meant to be a celebration of both President Washington and President Lincoln (and all presidents to some degree), the federal holiday is still only tied to celebrating the birthday of President George Washington. Any other designation is usually derived from state laws and not those of the nation.

In fact, the one time the federal government tried to pass such a law, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968, it failed in committee. It wasn't until the mid 1980s that the idea of Presidents' Day took hold, spurred on not by government but by advertisers. Shortly after that commercial movement, some states began to rename Washington's Birthday observances as "President's Day," "Presidents' Day," "Washington and Lincoln Day," or other designations.

In some ways, the combining of the observance (if not in spirit, in law), might have been a mistake. George Washington had a unique vision for the country and one fitting for people to consider today. Nowhere did he make his thoughts better known than his farewell address, which you can read here. Here are some highlights.

Highlights from George Washington's Farewell Address. 

Unity. Washington reminded the American people that their independence, peace at home and abroad, safety, prosperity, and liberty are all dependent upon the unity between the states. Although he recognized different regions had different beliefs, values, and visions of commerce, he believed that the nation would only prosper through unity.

Change. Although Washington specifically said that it was the right of the people to alter its government that these alternations and changes ought to only be done through constitutional amendments. Even then, he warned that political factions would ultimately take the power from the people and place it in the hands of unjust men.

Parties. Even as the first president, Washington saw the rise of a political party system as a danger to the nation and the Constitution. He believed there was too much potential for one group or another to seek power over other groups and gradually incline the minds of men to seek security as opposed to the absolute power of the individual.

 • Values. Although many people like to suggest that the United States ought to preserve a hardline separation of church and state, Washington believed that religious principles promote the protection of property, reputation, and life that are the foundations of justice. He said the morality of a nation cannot be maintained without religion (despite being a Diest himself).

Budget. Washington said that a balanced federal budget, including the maintenance of the nation's credit, is an important source of strength and security. He said the nation should avoid war, avoid unnecessary borrowing, and pay off any national debt accumulated in times of war as quickly as possible so future generations would not have to take care of those financial burdens.

Alliances. Washington continually maintained that the nation ought to avoid permanent foreign alliances with other nations, especially because foreign nations will continually seek to influence the American people and government. He said real patriots will be those who ignore popular opinion and resist the influence of friendly nations to seek what is best for their own country.

Equally interesting, in looking at the entirety of the address, it seems remarkable that a man who began his life as someone considered among the "middle ranking" would one day gain the experience necessary to guide the formation of a country and eventually preside over a constitutional government that could evolve. And, the entire time, he remained humble enough to feel the position he was elected to was largely undeserved.

His humility, no doubt, was the result of his own heritage. Although his half-brother, who acted as Washington's father figure after their own father had died, did have some privileges and opportunities granted to him after developing a close relationship with the Fairfax family, Washington was not necessarily born into any elite status like some of the country's founding fathers. He earned most of it.

And perhaps it was because he earned it that Washington still imparts some of the best wisdom for this country, even if his farewell address is no longer read by the House of Representatives and had taken on a more ceremonial reading in the Senate than one for our senators and representatives to reflect on.

If they did, some might imagine a very different agenda. If they did, they might see a government that works to unite rather than divide, preserve a legacy rather than write their own, protect individuals rather than subjugate them, observe morals rather than vilify them, balance a budget rather than argue about how much more to borrow, and place more importance on the country rather than its position in the world.

Happy birthday, George Washington (Feb. 11 on the old calendar and Feb. 22 on the new one). You might not have thought yourself worthy of the position, but your considerable wisdom proves otherwise. On every point, you were right.

Friday, November 11

Honoring Veterans: Veterans Day

Every year, the United States honors all of the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces. And every year, me and my team have had the honor of participating in unique and memorable ways.

This year will be a bit different, more personal. But the importance of the day is no less significant on a larger scale. And in thinking of what to share to convey the point, I came across a letter written by Sergeant Joseph Morrissey in 1969.

His words, I think, best convey the sentiment of the average Joe or Jane who serves at home or far away countries, in peace and war. It reminds me, and I hope you too, that in service and sacrifice, we are often compelled to do what is best for our country even when what needs to be done runs opposite of our beliefs.

Hello Brother, 
How are you treating life these days? Have you gotten a grip on those Merrimack students yet?

This place is sort of getting to me. I've been seeing too many guys get messed up, and I still can't understand it. It's not that I can't understand this war. It's just that I can't understand war period. 

If you do not get to go to that big peace demonstration in October, I hope you do protest against the war or sing for peace — I would. I just can't believe half the shit I've seen over here so far. 

Do you know if there's anything wrong at home? I haven't heard from anyone in about two weeks, and normally I get 10 letters a week. you mentioned in your letters that you haven't heard from them for a while either. I couldn't take sitting over in this place if I thought there was anything wrong at home.

Well, brother, I hope you can get to your students and start them thinking about life. Have you tried any marijuana lectures lately? I know they dig that current stuff.

I gotta go now. Stay loose, Paul, and sing a simple song of freedom and I'll be seeing you come summer.

Joe, October 1969

The most recognized Veterans Day national ceremony is held each year on Nov. 11 at Arlington National Cemetery. This ceremony commences at 11 a.m. with a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns. It then continues in the Memorial Amphitheater with a parse of colors presented by veterans' organizations and remarks from dignitaries.

In addition to the Veterans Day services held at Arlington, there are several sites that host regional services. These services may be found on a page maintained by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. For states that do not have a regional event listed, please check with your local government.

For the rest of the world, many countries will celebrate Nov. 11 as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, a date that commemorates the armistice that ended World War I. Good night and good luck.

Monday, July 4

Writing Independence: How To Write A Social Contract

Don't Tred On Me"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." — Declaration of Independence.

While the Fourth of July is a largely American affair, the document that laid the foundation of what would become the United States made a statement that exceeded the confines of a handful of colonies. It set forth a declaration that the governed could alter or abolish any government that usurped the unalienable rights of the people — an idea that was not confined to the colonies but born, in part, from the thinking of John Locke, who believed in a limited government bound by a social contract.

Locke, an English philosopher and physician, was one of the most influential contributors to the Age of Enlightenment, a cultural movement in 18th century Europe that sought to promote reason and advance knowledge. Locke was not alone. Baruch Spinoza (Dutch Republic), Pierre Bayle (France), François-Marie Arouet a.k.a Voltaire (France), and Isaac Newton (United Kingdom) had advanced elements of the thinking behind it.

Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and other founding fathers were only a few of the people influenced. The intellectual reasoning had spread across Europe, notably England, Scotland, the German states, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy, Austria, and Spain. It's also why the American Declaration of Independence had a profound impact in the world — concisely articulating the statement before outlining a list of grievances against its government (which was the majority of English Parliament despite the document citing the King of England as the primary culprit).

Writing The Declaration Of Independence.

A few years ago, Stephen Lucas wrote The Stylistic Artistry of the Declaration of Independence, which discusses its literary qualities and its rhetorical power. Among the properties that Lucas points out, the most prominent ten include:

Clarity. The entire piece uses the most simple and direct language of the time.
Concise. The document does in 202 words (The Preamble) what it took Locke thousands to do.
Flow. Not only does every sentence flow into the next, but each word follows another.
Rhythm. Every sentence is carefully balanced, with significance placed on alliteration (the ear).
Structure The piece is carefully crafted to deliver a powerful sense of structural unity.
Objectiveness. The focus on empirical reality rather than interpretations of reality.
Imagery. The infusion of descriptive words that show the reader rather than merely tell them.
Emotional. The ability to be human, making an argument for not only the head, but the heart.
Ambiguity. Each grievance presented is tied to specific events, but names and places are omitted.
Conclusion. In the conclusion sentence, it reinforces a trilogy of things worth fighting for.

Rarely do politicians employ such literary purpose in their propositions today. And neither do most writers when they set out to make a case on any number of subjects worth writing about. Incidentally, all of them brush up against the five elements of writing to include within any piece of prose or content: clear, concise, accurate, human, and conspicuous.

Are We Due For A Second Age Of Enlightenment?

One of the most profound details of the Declaration of Independence (that I learned a few years ago), was a significant edit made by Franklin. Originally, Jefferson had borrowed from the more popular trilogy spoke of during the day — life, liberty, and property. It was Franklin who struck down property and inserted the less tangible pursuit of happiness.

While some see the edit as a minor nuisance to provide for more intangible and higher cause, I sometimes wonder if Franklin also intended to avoid the trappings of tangible goods being assigned to government. We can read as much in the Bill of Rights, which was created as a condition to the U.S. Constitution (1787), insisted upon by men who wanted to preserve the influence from the Age of Enlightenment well into the future of the country. With property comes the power to move toward tyranny.

Declaration of IndependenceWe might even see the problem with some governments' increased focus on property today as opposed to providing for the security of life (protection from aggressors), liberty (freedom), and pursuit of happiness (a free marketplace of ideas). As governments borrow against the assets of the people and/or regulate individual financial prowess, it positions such governments not only to enslave a people, but also promises to enslave their descendants as slaves to such debt, thereby making it nearly impossible to pursue happiness, or perhaps enlightenment as intended, without a mountain of preexisting shackles of constraint.

At least, that is what I intend to ask my children consider when they are older. While there are those who believe the happiness of the many outweighs that of the few; there are also those who believe that the insistence any individual — endowed with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — be forced to relinquish such rights is nothing more than the embodiment of mass selfishness.

And it seems to me that the founding fathers belonged to the latter grouping, shedding obligation from its sovereign, who had apparently forgotten that any government derive their rights from the free people they govern and not the other way around. Leadership, for example, is not the prize for a despot who can override a nation's social contract, but rather an honor to protect and preserve that very social contract that grants that honor. At least, I think so. Good night and good luck.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July, with at least a sliver of time in between the barbecues and fireworks to contemplate its meaning. And for all my non-American friends, take a moment to consider that while our celebration is American, the foundation of this celebration is truly the collective result of enlightened people across Europe spanning hundreds of years.

Monday, May 30

Reflecting On: Memorial Day

Unkown SoldierThe brave die never, though they sleep in dust: Their courage nerves a thousand living men. — Minot J. Savage

How easy it is at times for a nation to forget the significance of Memorial Day amidst the banner of a long weekend and start of summer. And yet, it is for the very losses of these fallen heroes, the men and women of the U.S. military, that we can fan the flames of our barbecues, host backyard parties, and relax in lazy wonderment by the sides of our pools.

"Sometimes she alone ensures our sacrifices, so others may live free, will never be forgotten." — Richard Becker for American War Mothers

There is a band that hails from the United Kingdom that recently wrote a song that captures the awe (and regret) that a soldier who runs away from a battle might feel about his fallen comrades. The song is The Cowardly Soldier's Lament, from a West country folk band Rocketeer. Enjoy and then remember.

If nothing else, at 3 p.m. today, please pause for a few minutes during the National Moment of Remembrance. Or perhaps, if you can find the time, listen to Taps, which was reworked as we know it today after the Seven Days battles at Harrison's Landing (near Richmond). It revised an order ceremony, which called for the signal to extinguish lights.

But again, such suggestions are only the least that one can do. There are dozens of organizations that rely on everyday citizens for funding and support. Just a few of them include America's Fallen Heroes Fund, American Fallen Soldiers Project, American Gold Star Mothers, Fallen Heroes Project, and Flowers For Heroes. Please take a minute to visit them as well as consider the meaning behind the original day.

Memorial Day was first enacted as Decoration Day by formerly enslaved African-Americans to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War. Later, Southern states held their own Memorial Days, helping rebind the common cause of this country. And in 1866 in Mississippi, Decoration Day commemorated both the Union and Confederate casualties buried in its cemeteries.

After World War I, it was expanded to honor Americans who have died in all wars and military conflicts. And it wasn't until the National Holiday Act of 1971 that it became attached to a three-day weekend. Over the years, I've lent other posts to Memorial Day, including some words of President Abraham Lincoln, a speech written for the American War Mothers, and several historic photos when there was nothing left to say. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, February 16

Causing Revolutions: The Influence Of Nobody

"I, a girl, am going down to Tahrir Square, and I will stand alone. And I'll hold up a banner. Perhaps people will show some honor." —  Asmaa Mahfouz

Jay Rosen has contributed a nice round- up of posts that brings some balance back to the debate of whether or not social media helped topple a dictator, so I won't bother. (Hint: It's not a yes or no answer. It's not even the right question.) There's a better topic, even if some of it overlaps.

This topic comes in the form of 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz (and others). While she is a young and reasonably new activist in Egypt, she would be considered by most social media measures as one of the least likely catalysts of an uprising. She might even be considered a nobody. (Me too, I imagine.)

And yet, she is the person who posted a status message on Facebook, not Twitter, saying that she was going to Tahrir Square. It was also her video that resonated with the Egyptian people. And it resonated not because she appeared to be somebody but rather nobody, much like them. Here is the video if you haven't seen it.

You can read one of the earliest stories about her contributions here. You make the call on the source. There are others. Thousands in fact, including The New York Times, which included that her video motivated men even more than women.

Real influence often belongs to nobody at the right moment.

Sure, I understand there is some hubbub about whether social media played a role or not, even if most of it was preemptive push back. I call it "preemptive" because the people Rosen criticized for the push back seemed to be reacting to what they thought people would say. They thought people would say "social media toppled a dictator" because they did say things like that about Tunisia. Mike Masnick addressed it too, perhaps even better than Rosen.

The better question is what can we learn from Mahfouz about influence? And what does her role say about those who cater to somebodies as opposed to nobodies?

I think the answer predates social media. After all, Rosa Parks didn't need Twitter or Facebook or even an Internet to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

busRight, there were others before Parks (much like there were others before Mahfouz in Egypt). But unlike the disobedience by Parks in 1955, no other individual action sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. Hers is the story of the right action, the right message, the right time, and the right nobody. Someone who unexpectedly turned out to be one of the most important somebodies in the civil right movement.

I suspect the same could be said about Mahfouz, whether or not she had Twitter or Facebook. The only difference is that the new tools speed things up.

For Parks, it took 24 hours before her story (originally printed and circulated on a flyer to the local black community) reached Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and even longer for the Supreme Court ruling (Browder v. Gayle, 1956). Hundreds of years earlier, it took months before the iconic Paul Revere depiction of the Boston Massacre to circulate before enough people saw it as a rally point that sparked a revolution six years after. Hundreds and hundreds of years before that, Spartacus did not even have the benefit of a printing press.

All told, there have been hundreds of notable and historic revolutions and rebellions all over the world well before social media. And, I suspect there will be hundreds more long after social media is replaced by some other sweeping form of communication.

The tools, no doubt, will continue to change. But what will remain is that revolutions, uprisings, and rebellions are most often sparked by nobodies, regardless of the communication tools at their disposal. They are not sparked by nobodies who turn into somebodies, who then turn their backs on the rank and file of nobodies from which they came.

And this, more than any other lesson, is why we ought to be more cautious about influencers. They are only somebodies under constant threat of losing the authority granted them by the fat and happy mass of nobodies. However, when those nobodies feel less than happy, they are also the ones who may one day unexpectedly change history in ways we can never imagine. In ways that Mubarak never imagined. In ways that George III never imagined. In ways that Roman republic never imagined.

Nobodies define history, even when they are obscured by it.

Not all of it has to be confined by revolution or uprising. Sometimes it can be a simple act of incredible heroics.

Case in point. Ronald Reagan is rightly credited for setting the environment in which the Berlin Wall came down. However, he could have never delivered that speech if not for the action of the nobodies — Jerry Parr, Thomas Delahanty and Tim McCarthy (and others) — who acted heroically and prevented an assassination attempt. Those men, and also the mass of nobodies responsible for the intense East German protest in 1989, made it happen. One of the world's most influential super powers was suddenly powerless.

I don't mean this as a rub against Reagan in the least, but there was a time when he was considered a nobody too. Ironically though, what seems to separate him from a some people who climbed up the ranks of social media, I think, is that Reagan never forgot it. Other people do. Companies do. Organizations do.

Organizations needn't bother looking for and empowering influencers, tiny tyrants of their respective spheres. They ought to consider how they can work together with hundreds and thousands of the right nobodies who just might change the world.

Old school media is gone, but that doesn't mean we need to erect new media based on old ideas. It's one of the many reasons Seth Godin was wrong when he wrote about tribes or Shel Israel about villes. Social media is still populated by nomads, hundreds of nobodies with the potential to be somebody (and nobody again) in the blink of an eye. Just like life, offline.

a girlInfluence is a fragile thing, you see. And the tools — a mass following of people you think agree with you or a paid army of one million — change nothing. It all ends the same for those who forget where they came from. The most influential man in Egypt might wake up to find he has nothing more to say because a nobody girl like Asmaa Mahfouz captures the hearts, minds, and sentiment of how people feel.

It's the kind of outcome organizations might think about. It might seem easier to prop up someone who can dictate. But sooner or later, it will be the mass of nobodies beneath them that decide whether to protect your company or buy what you are selling. Because once the influencer is gone — bought out, burnt out, retired, run out, or proven a fraud — you might find yourself asking tough questions like the United States is asking now.

Do these people want our definition of freedom or just freedom from us? Were you listening?

Thursday, November 11

Honoring Veterans Day: Every Day

Every year, the United States honors all of its men and women who have served in the Armed Forces. And every year, we feel it is especially important to share this space in their honor even as the real work often takes place somewhere else.

Last year, my team was especially grateful to work on a campaign that honored our servicemen and women. Many of those programs that benefited our veterans can still use your help today. Please consider making a donation.

However, I might add that even when I am not working on campaigns or writing speeches or serving our state or sharing a moment of silence, I often pause to think about the brave men and women who serve our country. After all, their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good never rests. Ours need not either.

In addition to honoring our servicemen and women and supporting organizations that provide them with services, we might also reflect on commitment as an example of selflessness in our country and the original intent of November 11. All around the world today, many other countries are celebrating November 11 as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, as this date commemorates the Armistice that ended World War I.

In most countries, the celebration is marked with poppies. The significance being that poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I. Their red color remains a symbol for the bloodshed of warfare. A small number of people also wear white poppies as a symbol of peace. We might hope.

Wednesday, July 7

Flipping Terms: Freedom In Retrospect

"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must undergo the fatigue of supporting it." — Thomas Paine

In relation to population, Common Sense, written by Thomas Paine, had the largest circulation of any book in American history. It set the tone for the United States Declaration of Independence, arguing that all men are created equal six months before the principal author, Thomas Jefferson, wrote in the explanation of the colonies' decision to separate. It was adopted on July 4, 1776.

The above quote, which I shared across my social networks during the long weekend, elicited an interesting response from my friend Chris Stadler, who asked if the concept of freedom I was referencing had changed over the last 234 years. Many people today, even those who are uncertain of which country the United States declared its independence from, believe it to mean freedom from responsibilities. Specifically, the right not to worry.

Flipping The Definition Of Freedom.

Flipping the definitions of freedom and security is relatively easy to do. And to escape the trappings of politics, let's consider the zoo, which is a park or institution where animals are kept, bred, and exhibited.

By the definition of some, these animals must be the most free on earth. All of their meals are provided, fairly distributed based upon the energy they require. All of their health care is free, with regular preventative care. All of their decisions are made for them, ranging from what to eat to when they sleep to what they play with for the enjoyment of passersby.

They want for nothing, these animals. No predators can harm them. And nowadays, most live longer.

However, most zoologists admit that while they can provide a good and caring quality of life for the animals, one can only guess whether or not any particular animal would be happier in the wild or not. By most measures, it depends on the animal.

And with that in mind, for the purposes of this thought experiment, imagine if some of the animals could let us know. And let's say, a certain percentage of these animals told us that they would, indeed, prefer a harsher risk for the thrill of the hunt or the run. The zookeeper might be faced with a curious choice.

If specific animals are responsible for the revenue generated by the zoo, should they be let go and all the remaining animals forced to get by with less? Or, do they have an obligation to stay for the good of the community they were born into or adopted by? And since whatever rare attributes they possess are vital to the collective good, are theyrequired to accept the quality of life chosen for them, which by a different sort of parameters offers them more freedom, not less, despite the burden of captivity?

Indeed, under the flipped freedom thinking, the obligatory model holds. It did in 1776 too.

Leading Up To Independence.

Americans tend to learn about the American Revolution from the perspective of Americans. It makes sense, but there is a succession of steps that lead up to disenfranchisement of the people, with most of those problems related to policy.

Great Britain wasn't necessarily trying to be cruel to the Americas, at first. It had borrowed heavily to finance the Seven Years War (called the French and Indian War in the Americas), and doubled its national debt.

Since all countries must eventually address liabilities, Great Britain began levying more taxes to pay for the debt. To collect these taxes, the government had to create and expand bureaucracies, which required additional taxes to support it.

The new bureaucracies, afforded more power by Parliament, did what they do best. They increased regulations, which inflamed the increasing tax and debt problems. And, as justification, viewed the increasing taxes and regulations as just, given the obligation of its citizens to share in the costs associated with its decisions, perhaps bad ones.

The end result, from the perspective of the various colonies, was a central government encroaching on the prosperity and autonomy of the various colonial charters and the citizens who resided there. However, that did not matter to the central government, which felt it had sufficient power and authority to bind the colonial states to its will.

Many of us know what happened next. It led to the writing of the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress, a document written two years prior to the Declaration of Independence but much lesser known in that it was an attempt to reconcile increasing taxation and central authority.

The similarities of our current course are startling, with one exception. A greater percentage of people elect to live in a zoo. And there seems to be an increasing number of people inclined to round up the rest who prefer to run loose. It's for their own good, naturally.

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Monday, May 31

Remembering Those Who Lived: Memorial Day

"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived." — General George S. Patton

The death of Marine Cpl. Jacob C. Leicht from Texas marked a grim reminder for most Americans that freedom comes at a price that is often paid by others. He was the 1,000th soldier killed in Afghanistan. In Iraq, the number of deaths reached 1,000 in October 2004. The Washington Post chronicles the fallen whereas the words of President Abraham Lincoln, written before the first Memorial Day (originally Decoration Day), remain among the most quoted for all those who came before them. I leave them for you today.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
— President Abraham Lincoln

What else can be said, except to ask ourselves daily whether we still hold such resolve in high regard, that those men and women who have laid down their lives have done so in the name of freedom. We may hope.

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Tuesday, November 24

Blacklisting Best Buy: When Ads Go Bad

Best Buy seems to have found more than it bargained for after it ran a national Black Friday advertisement inviting the world to celebrate Thanksgiving and Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Adha?

In case you do not know, Eid al-Adha is a Muslim holiday, "Festival of Sacrifice" or "Greater Eid," celebrated to commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismael as an act of obedience to God. The date it is celebrated is variable; this year it falls on Nov. 27. Regular charitable practices of the Muslim community are demonstrated during Eid al-Adha by the concerted effort to see that no impoverished person is left without sacrificial food during these days.

And from now on, Best Buy discounts too. The national retailer is standing by its decision.

Three reasons Best Buy is setting the foundation for its own crisis.

1. Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is identified with as a secular holiday in the United States. It began as an annual tradition in 1863 and a federal holiday in 1941. While it is sometimes tied to a religious observation in that some people give thanks to God, the primary celebration consists of bringing two cultures together for a harvest feast.

2. Christians. Christians are increasingly frustrated because tolerance does not seem to be a two-way street. In recent decades, it has been noticed that public, corporate, and government mention of the term "Christmas," for example, has been replaced with a generic term while other non-Christian holidays seem to have no cautionary constraints. Best Buy, specifically, does not allow Merry Christmas in its advertisements. It hasn't since 2006. (A Best Buy spokesperson has said it may be reversing that decision this year).

3. Muslims. While a spokesman for the Council on American-Isamic Relations said it makes perfect sense for a retailer to acknowledge and celebrate the holiday, one wonders if Muslims will feel the same way in considering the long-term commercialization of Eid Al-Adha. For example, national retailers do not generally recognize exclusively Christian holidays like Ash Wednesday. It is probably best if they do not.

The motivation, more than the message, is why Best Buy perplexes.

Best Buy's response — which draws attention to the fact that its customers and employees "around the world represent a variety of faiths and denominations. We respect that diversity and choose to greet our customers and employees in ways that reflect their traditions" — does not accurately reflect its past decisions to diminish other holiday greetings.

That seems to underpin the complaint and call to boycott Best Buy by some Christians, and not the lack of tolerance as suggested by anti-boycott proponents who have taken to defending the Muslim faith while making fun of those offended. The company, apparently attempting to capitalize on the confused state of the nation in regard to specific groups receiving a temporary "politically correct" pass, deserves some public backlash for its lack of public relations savvy.

From a public relations perspective, Best Buy is better served by a policy that embraces all faiths and denominations specifically or generally and not selectively or by PC popularity if it hopes to simultaneously include all those faiths and denominations. This might be especially true for a holiday like Thanksgiving, which is largely meant to be a non-religious, multi-cultural and national celebration regardless of how specific faiths and denominations choose to celebrate it.

From a more personal perspective, I neither support or oppose the ad nor do I support or oppose the boycott. I do, however, think that the pairing of Eid al-Adha and Thanksgiving demonstrates significant ignorance over the meaning of both holidays.

Friday, November 13

Changing Behavior: Consumer Confidence

In coming out of what it defines as the Great Recession of 2008/2009, The Futures Company is setting its sights on a dramatic shift in consumer conscience and confidence beginning to take hold in 2010.

Specifically, The Futures Company sees consumers moving beyond the heightened sense of anxiety and economizing frugality that convinced them (and their employers) to operate from a sense of self-preservation and scarcity. However, in the new post-recession world, The Futures Company does not see consumers returning to an era of accumulation and indulgence. Instead, they make the case for an evolutionary step forward in thinking.

A Darwinian Gale Has Reshaped Consumer Thinking

In its recently published white paper, The Futures Company articulates attempts to identify the crucial characteristics of the marketplace to come, one that will be shaped by a new consumer confidence that would have a direct impact on how marketers, advertisers, public relations practitioners, and social media professionals might proceed. These characteristics include...

• Responsibility. Consumers will be much more responsible when making purchasing decisions, giving more consideration for what they purchase before they purchase it.

• Vigilance. Consumers will be much more watchful about their exposure and position, with every aspect of their spending being questioned and placing increased pressure on communicators to ally with their concerns.

• Resourceful. Consumers will be more resourceful, with an emphasis on the management and conservation of resources that they consider most important to them.

• Prioritization. Consumers will be much more likely to prioritize their purchasing decisions in the marketplace. While this won't change their aspirations, they will think of purchasing decisions as trade offs.

• Network Oriented. With increasing regularity, consumers will forge personal networks of support that they consider essential in a world of uncertainty. The net result will shift the pre-gale presumption of global convergence toward a post-gale world of local "exceptionalism."

Preliminary Conclusions About A Darwinian Gale

There is certainly some basis for the conclusions drawn by The Futures Company. In particular, they are right that marketers have grown too comfortable in an era of indulgence, where they knew what consumers wanted and delivered it to them with an excitement and intensity that compelled people to buy, even if it meant overextending their credit to do so.

They are right that the marketplace is in transition, but some of their glimpses into the future might be slightly offset by other trends that seemed to be dismissed. While there is no doubt consumers will invest considerably more time in defining value, there is an equally likely chance that this definition of value will be based on perception as opposed to reality.

While the current trend certainly suggests a shift toward populist behavior, due largely to an increased reliance on the Internet, we anticipate a pendulum swing back toward the center in regard to popularity defining value over objective thinkers defining value. It almost has to occur as communication continues to increase exponentially and public relations sets its sights on social media, leading to an increased infusion of biased communication in an effort to gain a perception of being valuable.

Much like yellow journalism ushered in objective journalism before many media outlets gave up on the concept in order to cater to stories that affirmed the beliefs of their readers and viewers, someone — either media or other parties — will have to become trusted advisers without individual or organizational agendas.

The other weakness in the white paper is the concept of moving away from globalization without considering the new geography of the Web. While local markets are an increasingly important part of the marketing equation, the white paper seems to de-emphasize the importance of the Internet's ability to create entirely new environments. People aren't only from their geographical locations but also from new destinations like online communities and certain social networks that do not recognize geography as a defining trait among members.

We also found a significant challenge in this world view. Given that consumers have learned that the work is riskier than they once believed, the construct still shows consumer thinking to be based largely on a fear mindset, which in itself has negative consequences, especially as the blame for an air of indulgence is being placed on the mantle of a free market system.

If you can get past some of these challenges, there are glimmers of realities to be optimistic about. The best of which stems from the concept that there is indeed an increased opportunity for companies, and communicators, to turn resourcefulness and innovation into tangible benefits that add real value to the world, which enhances optimism and consumer confidence (much like Steve Jobs did despite the 2001 recession). It is the most accurate assessment in the entire paper.

And from that perspective alone, A Darwin Gale might be worth checking out. Just keep in mind, as the authors freely admit, the future is not fixed.

Wednesday, November 11

Making Promises: Veterans Day

I met a boy on the ship coming over to Vietnam. He was a good guy from the state of Missouri. He was my friend. We lived in the same tent together, went into the An-Khe together, and spent most of our free time together. I got to know this boy well and he was my best friend. His name was Dan Davis.

On Monday morning, the 15th of November, he died in my arms of two bullet wounds in the chest. He said, "Ken, I can't breathe." There was nothing I could do." — excerpt from a letter from Kenneth Bagby, 1st Battalion, 7th Calvary, 1965

Forty-seven years prior, on the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" in 1918, armistice was signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Rethondes, France. The promise of armistice was peace, after a different generation of veterans prayed that their sons and daughters would never have to see the horrors of war.

In Belgium it is known as a Day of Peace. In France, Jour de l'Armistice. In the United Kingdom, it remains a day of remembrance. In Australia and Canada, people still wear red poppies and pause for a moment of silence at the eleventh hour. In Germany, Volkstrauertag remains a national day of mourning. And in the United States it was renamed Veterans Day to recognize and honor all veterans who served.

And yet, despite such promises made every year on this day, armistice continues to be a promise the world cannot keep. And children become solders. And soldiers are sent away. And when they return, sometimes only their mothers, families, filmakers, and bloggers remember them.

This Veterans Day is different for me. It is different because I recently had the opportunity to meet Phil Valentine, director/producer, and Michael Bedik, director of photography, who created Who Will Stand, a documentary that examines the experience of a dozen physically and/or psychologically wounded American soldiers who have returned from war. After watching this film, it reminds us that not only was the promise of armistice broken, but so too is the promise of doing everything possible for the men and women who have served.

This promise is broken to such a degree that some people even suggested that the documentary not be seen because it was too political, uncomfortable, and reveals some shortfalls in the system meant to care for veterans. I disagree. While it might be easier for the current administration to not hear the needs of veterans, we can be thankful people like Valentine and Bedik have given them a forum to be heard. They need to be heard.

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” — Colin Powell

Are you listening? We're listening. Not only to filmmakers like Valentine, but people like Toby Nunn, Ron Portillo, and Dana F. Harbaugh, author of Pearls of Honor: Their Duty to Remember, who served two overseas deployments aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-61) and participated in Operations Earnest Will, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and the Defense of the Kurdish Peoples. People who have a great respect for servicemen and women.

• The Soldierʼs Project helps provide free counseling and support to military service members who have served or who expect to serve in the Iraq and/or Afghanistan conflicts and to veterans of those conflicts.
Defending Freedom raises awareness and support for servicemen and women with its Defending Freedom wristbands.
Blue Star Mothers provides support for active duty service personnel, assists veterans organizations, and is available to assist in homeland volunteer efforts.
The Wounded Warrior Project raises awareness and enlists the aid of the public in meeting the needs of severely injured servicemen and women by providing direct services that honor and empower wounded warriors.
U.S. Vets provides housing, counseling, job assistance, and hope to thousands of homeless veterans each year.
Soldiers' Angels is an international, volunteer-led organization supporting America's men and women in uniform that supports more than 30 projects.

To that end, Veterans Day doesn't need to be confined to a single day of recognition or remembrance. Rather, it can be the day that you ask yourself if you are doing something, anything, for the men and women who have already done something for you, regardless of the country where you live. Good night and good luck.

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