A Veteran’s Perspective on the Inauguration
Like many Americans, I watched the events of the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Building unfold with horror.
Part of the horror was the realization that so many of the insurrectionists were veterans. As a veteran myself, I can say that I am shocked but perhaps not surprised by that fact. Historically, many veterans have turned on their own country, with examples ranging from Lee Harvey Oswald to Timothy McVeigh. Furthermore, the correlation between veterans and white nationalism has been long established. As Kathleen Belew, who studies the white power movement, noted, “the return of veterans from combat appears to correlate more closely with Klan membership than any other historical factor.”
To be clear — the proportion of veterans who assassinate government officials or join the white power movement is small, but the proportion of veterans within those groups is high.
On the other side of the insurrection were the veterans who protected the U.S. Capitol Building. Examples range from Officer Brian Sicknick, who served in the Air Force, to Officer Eugene Goodman, who served in the Army. The D.C. National Guard — though delayed — arrived at the Capitol Building and helped to secure the perimeter around the building, allowing Congress to finish the Electoral College certification.
During my active duty service, I deployed overseas to Afghanistan and Kuwait. I trained overseas in Germany and Poland, where I participated in joint exercises with allied European militaries. Never once was I activated to quell a domestic insurrection.
The National Guard is a bit of a different animal. National Guard troops can be activated by the state (such as in response to natural disasters) or by the federal government (such as for deployments overseas). Most members of the National Guard hold full-time civilian employment; they respond to emergencies when they are activated by their respective governors or the president.
The presidential transition is one such emergency. The Pentagon announced that 25,000 National Guard members will be activated for the inauguration. These service members will come from every state and territory in the country.
Upon enlistment, service members — whether active duty or National Guard — take the following oath:
I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
I am overwhelmed by two opposing thoughts about service members being activated to go to Washington, DC. On the one hand, safeguarding the inauguration does more to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” than anything I ever did in Afghanistan. I would be proud to protect the U.S. Capitol Building from white nationalist insurrectionists.
On the other hand, the National Guard troops are only activated because one man refuses to concede. If President Donald Trump simply announced that he lost the election and asked his supporters to go home, then the National Guard members from all over the country would be able to spend the long weekend with their family members.
The level of violence the country has witnessed this month is unusual. Presidential transitions are normally peaceful bureaucratic affairs. The exception is due to to, as Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) phrased it, “a selfish man’s injured pride.” Trump, alone, can fix this chaos. In the meantime, it is our responsibility as citizens not to allow this political violence to become normalized.