Veteran’s Day Reflections by Tom Casten

What justifies a leader’s decisions to commit enormous resources to wars — to send soldiers into harm’s way, knowing many will die?

I have a personal perspective on these choices. I served as a Marine in Vietnam, and three of my ancestors saw combat in WWII (Dad with 82nd Airborne in Battle of the Bulge, Uncle Stan wounded when his ship was attacked in the pacific, and Uncle Harry as a US Army Air Force navigator with the group that had a plane named the Enola Gay.) We survived but each lost comrades and witnessed too many horrors.

I have long struggled with the question of why a nation goes to war.

The answer, I think, should always be the same: government’s most fundamental role is to ensure the long-term survival of the nation . The challenge for leadership is when to make those heavy short-term investments and put soldiers’ lives at risk in order to ensure the long-term survival of the nation and its way of life.

Disclaimer: Does not imply endorsement by the Department of Defense or the United States Marine Corps.

Governance is seldom ideal, and politics often delay responses to threats. America was several years late to join WWII because of denialists like Charles Lindbergh, who insisted that “two vast oceans … guarantee the Nation’s safety”. Many embraced Lindbergh’s conspiracy theory that “A small minority of American people control much of the machinery of influence and propaganda.” America’s delayed entry gave the Axis powers time to build military/industrial capacity, which vastly increased the human cost of winning the war.

The nature of today’s threats has changed. The rapid growth of population, technology and standard of living seem like progress, but create new threats to our long-term survival that leaders must proactively identify and address.

Are we now facing an existential threat? Consider:

  1. Weather events are increasingly causing death and destruction of homes and infrastructure.
  2. Record numbers of people have been driven off their land by droughts and floods.
  3. Rising sea levels threaten coastal cities.
  4. Almost all climate scientists agree that human activities are responsible for observed and predicted climate change.

Does this not fall into the category of national security?

Other nations have unanimously recognized this threat (2015 Paris accords) and are taking actions and making investments. Other nations have increased support for clean energy technology to threat while creating local and improving local standards of living.

Most importantly, this threat is addressable — but not with military action. It requires investments in solutions and an overhaul of policies and regulations that encourage burning fossil fuel. No soldiers need be placed in harm’s way.

Climate change is an existential threat that government must address immediately, but history is repeating itself. We have a new brand of denialist: the climate change denialist. And these denialists have somehow hijacked our leaders’ ability to fulfill their most basic duty — to ensure long-term survival of the nation.

This Veteran’s Day consider the service and sacrifice of those who fought to ensure the safety of our nation. Think about today’s threats and what must be done to address them.

We must give highest priority to the clear and present danger of human-induced climate change. Demand facts in lieu of myths. Rely on peer reviewed science in lieu of conspiracy theories. Insist that leaders focus more on the future and less on campaign contributions from fossil fuel extractors. America can address this threat, profit from the new technologies and investments in clean energy, and ensure the long-term survival of our nation and our fellow world citizens.

Tom Casten, Captain, USMC, 1964–1968