Today is veteran’s day. A day that is meant to honor and respect those who have served, both past and present. Usually, I skip veteran’s day. Maybe make a joke about no one getting me presents or baking me a cake. But, generally, I let it pass just like any other day of the year.
This year is different. It is different in so many ways that it is hard to even begin to process. A pandemic is killing millions of people globally. Routines and lives are being shaken up and irrevocably changed. But more than all the negativity that 2020 has brought, the election is the reason I am writing today.
Usually, I don’t share stories from Iraq. From time to time I might share a funny story about soldiers doing dumb things in Germany, but never anything meaningful. Today however, I feel compelled to share a memory. One that has stuck in my mind since the day that it occurred and has only grown in its significance to me and the way I perceive the world.
During my deployment there, Iraq was in an election cycle. Much like our own election process, the candidates were running to be the next leaders of a country torn apart by sectarian violence, external influencers (the USA included), and a difficult previous regime. My unit was tasked with securing the polls, ensuring a safe election in a country filled with violence.
While I feel honored and privileged to have served during such an extraordinary time, the heroes of this memory are not the companies of soldiers who stood guard behind machine guns in defense of democracy. The heroes in my memory are the Iraqi people. They were willing to go to the polls and vote even in the face of a tumultuous history and a great possibility of danger to themselves and their families. They were willing to walk through the checkpoints of armed soldiers, armored vehicles, and random searches of their person and belongings. They were willing to die to vote.
The most amazing part of this story is that the true danger would not have been directly from an insurgent force, but from being caught in the crossfire between insurgents and coalition forces. People who have never served are usually not aware of how the American military functions when in combat, how we lay down a base of fire and do not let up until it’s over. How those civilians who were just trying to vote would have just as likely been killed by one of our bullets as someone else’s.
The men and women who showed up that day were fully aware of this fact. American forces had been there for 5 years by the time I arrived. They knew how we operated. They knew the risk. They showed up anyway.
I tell this story, not as a condemnation of American forces or the rules of engagement, but to show just how important a representative democracy is to people around the world. The idea of getting to choose your leaders and those who represent you is worth risking their lives.
As I write this, the value of the American vote is being degraded on a scale that hasn’t been seen in over a century in this country. A sitting president is refusing to concede. His staff are making inflammatory statements about continuing on into the next four years and pushing an unsubstantiated narrative about voter fraud and a stolen election. All so that he can remain in power, without the support of the majority of the American people.
One of the most cherished values of the American people is the right to vote. We hold it so highly that we have toppled foreign governments for their lack of such a system. Today, as a veteran, I am asking you to think about that value. Whether you are conservative or liberal, or even apathetic to most politics, I am asking what you value as a member of the United States. If those values include being able to choose your leader and representatives, even if your choice doesn’t win the election, then I have a request for you. Instead of giving me gifts or baking me a cake, speak out. Write to your representatives. Ask them to speak out against the devaluation of the American vote.