Paying Tribute with Responsible Foreign Policy

Eric Schwartzman with USMC Brigadier General Frederick Padilla
Digital Marketing Consultant Eric Schwartzman with Brigadier General Frederick Padilla USMC at Parris Island Recruit Depot.

Eric Schwartzman on an OspreyThis coming Monday I’ll be celebrating Memorial Day — which commemorates those who have fallen in military service to the U.S.A. — by getting together with family and taking the day off work. 

But I’ll also be thinking about those who gave their lives executing US foreign policy decisions that they didn’t make, about the innocent civilians would died in the cross fire and the decisions that we, as a country, have made that led to armed conflict.

In the U.S., the decision to go to war is made by the president, and the decision of whether or not to stay at a war resides with congress. 

During the Vietnam war, this distinction must not have been clear because American civilians greeted returning service members by spitting on their uniforms, as if they were somehow solely responsible for the atrocities of that war.

Social Media Boot Camp by Eric Schwartzman at US Pacific CommandMilitary service is voluntary in the U.S.  Growing up in West Los Angeles, I had no friends or family members who elected to join up, so I had no first hand experience with men or women in the armed forces. 

But in 2007, I was conducting a digital public affairs training in Boston that was attended by group of senior officers and their gunnery sergeants from the United States Marines Corps.

Not only were they among the most physically fit specimens and I had ever seen.

They were keen of mind, and with razor sharp of wit, as well.  And over the course of the two-day social media workshop, I became more and more enthralled by their sensitivity to ethics, loyalty and total commitment to the United States of America. 

And today, the U.S. Armed Forces lead the private sector in their use of social media for public affairs.

Here are just some of the commands that are leveraging social media effectively:

I developed professional relationships with many of them, consulting on different strategic communications projects and was even invited to audit a Marines Boot Camp training at Parris Island in South Carolina.  And it was there, at the Marines Recruit Depot, that I witnesses something truly remarkable.

During the final, culminating 72-hour training exercise known as The Crucible, in between excruciatingly difficult physical exercises, drill sergeants gathered their troops and read short stories about Marines who had succeeded under what seemed like impossible circumstances.

When I asked Brigadier General Padilla what that was all about, he explained that when you send armed troops into battle, they need to be able to make ethical decisions quickly, under duress.

By instilling “Core Values” as part of the boot camp training, they were taking measures to make sure troops were prepared not just how to fire weapons, but to decide when and when not to fire them as well.

Since that time, I have been have been honored to provide social media communications training to the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, NORAD Northcomm and U.S. Pacific Command.

I am also proud to say that I call many them personal friends too. 

And it has been my experience that these men and women who serve in the U.S. military come from all different types of socio-economic backgrounds and political beliefs. 

I even met one who was a Harvard graduate who could have had any job, but he decided to join up instead.

I have never met a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine who was in any way, predisposed to violence. 

Instead, what I found were pragmatic, honorable men and women of service who have made conscious decision to sacrifice their well being for the collective good of their nation. 

They are men and women who understand the meaning of the following quote:

“It is well that war is so terrible – otherwise we would grow too fond of it.”

Robert E. Lee, Statement at the Battle of Fredericksburg (13th December 1862)US-Confederate general (1807 – 1870)

War in service of access to resources like oil, rather than in service of human rights, is misguided and ugly to me personally.  I cannot say I am firmly behind all the decisions our political leaders have made that have resulted in armed conflict.  But I can say, unilaterally and unequivocally, that I feel nothing but respect and support for the men and women who go into harm’s way, and who have died, in service on our way of life. Whether I agree with that way or not.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the thing for those US policymakers who, in service to corporate greed, choose to send troops into battle for the sake of commerce.  To the president and congress, on this Memorial Day, I say this:

Before you send troops into battle. Before you support actions that will require the U.S. Dept. of Defense to carry out. Let’s make sure our policies are worth their sacrifices. And the sacrifices of civilians who will undoubtedly suffer under combat.

Let’s send a clear message to our legislators.  We owe to those who have sacrificed everything to serve in our military. We owe it to innocent civilians who will get caught in the cross fire. We owe it to ourselves.

Let’s honor the fallen everywhere with policies that put people, not companies, first.

To stay up date to date with the U.S. Military, follow this list of U.S. military commands on twitter.

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