It can be very sobering for one generation to watch the next repeat its mistakes.
My grandfather, a retired general, wore Glider Wings on his uniform. When I became a paratrooper myself, I came to a fuller appreciation of what he had done.
At Airborne School, they instilled not only the skills to jump from perfectly good airplanes, but also the history of the Airborne. We heard stories of WWII era paratroopers and Glider Riders like my grandfather.
I distinctly remember the day of our first jump. Our Airborne commander was a veteran of one of the only combat jumps from Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He proudly wore his combat jump wings and told us how the “Sky Soldiers” had jumped into Dak To, smashing the enemy, and that we were the next generation in the Airborne legacy. He expected us to be ready if and when the call came to stand in the door, put our knees to the breeze, and jump in to smash the enemies of our country.
Then he pulled out a Bible and began to read Ecclesiastes 3: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build.” He closed by reading verse eight, ending with “a time for war and a time for peace.”
It was not at all a warmongering speech, nor was it an inappropriate use of scripture. He was making the case that we can never fully predict the times, that peace will not last forever, and that there is a time to build.
A few years later I was a young lieutenant talking with my father, himself a retired army officer with multiple tours in Vietnam. “Do you think there will ever be a time that I will go to war?” I asked. It was a simple, yet profound, question.
“Son,” he said, “there has never been an American generation that didn’t experience war.” A dozen years later I was riding horses in Afghanistan, and a decade after that I pinned Airborne wings on my own son at Airborne School — proof that there is indeed a time for peace and a time for war.
Regarding the “time to build” reference in Ecclesiastes, I suggest that the time to build what is needed during the “time for war” is during the “time for peace.” But the U.S. is notorious for entering war without what it needs because it spends more of its peacetime downgrading its military capabilities, something that defies logic, and certainly defies history.
In the wake of WWII, massive drawdowns occurred. Then communists crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea to face ill-equipped and undertrained U.S. troops. In Vietnam, we found ourselves facing both an enemy and a terrain unlike any other. Once again, the U.S. had to develop new ways of fighting.
Post-Vietnam, my father lived through the Carter era in what he called the “hollow Army.” The U.S. military became a shell of its former self as it experienced a “time to tear down” more than a “time to build.” The hollow military then had to rebound for expeditionary warfare fraught with issues in places such as Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, and Somalia.
When 9/11 happened, the U.S. was once again forced to face its deficiencies to fight a strange war in a corner of the globe most didn’t know existed, followed by the years in Iraq, the return to Iraq, and the fight with ISIS.
Is today a time of peace? We have pockets of troops in harm’s way, but as a nation we are not on a war footing. Yet once again, we find the U.S. tearing down, our readiness downgraded by experts at the Heritage Foundation, our recruiting at 40-year lows, and our force modernization stymied in favor of green energy compliance, social justice, military abortions, and transgender therapies. Not since the Carter era has an administration so purposefully created “a time to tear down.”
We would do well to build in this time in between peace and war.
China is the heavyweight bully on the playground. Iran is the sneaky backstabber that would love to strike a blow. Russia is a nuclear power desperate to hang on to its former glory. North Korea is unstable. Recent reports say Afghanistan is once again a safe haven for fundamentalists like ISIS, the Taliban, and even Al-Qaeda. All these see the U.S. homeland as their target of choice.
But the Biden administration has determined that climate change is the existential threat to America. In paratrooper language, they had better get their heads out of their fourth point of contact.
This should be a time for building. A time to recoup lost capabilities, expand operational reach, and gather assets to protect the U.S., its allies, and interests.
There is a time for everything, and a season under the heavens, and every generation has known a time for war. This should be the time to build.